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Should Manchester United switch to a Midfield Diamond?

What makes the midfield diamond so special? Could it be implemented in the current Manchester United setup?

The diamond formation has been very well regarded for its defensive adaptabilities and counter-attacking prospects. Some of the most notable usages of the midfield diamond have been under Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan and Chelsea sides, Brendan Rodgers’s 2013-14 Liverpool side and Louis Van Gaal’s 1994-95 Ajax side. Some common features of this system were the superiority in midfield and positional creativity from all over the pitch.

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Image Souce: Opta Twitter

A midfield diamond is a system that requires exceptionally skilled playmakers, technically sound midfielders, attacking fullbacks as well as a deep-lying playmaker. The base of the diamond is required to act as a defensive screen and anchor. The standard diamond usage features two strikers upfront, two shuttling midfielders who cover the centre of the pitch and two attacking fullbacks who offer width in attack. Of course, every football game requires its fair share of adaptations to be made and tactical tweaks to be applied but the basic structure and idea of a diamond remain more or less the same.

When one of the two strikers drifts wide, the other stays central ready to attack the box should the opportunity to do so, comes up. Jorge Sampaoli famously guided his Chile side deep into the 2014 world cup with a 4-3-1-2 diamond. Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas were wingers who were played upfront as strikers. Mauricio Isla and José Rojas offered width on the flanks with their marauding runs upfield. The system gained popular praise because of the athleticism and robustness of their midfield four. Charles Aranguiz, Diaz and Arturo Vidal played dynamic roles while showcasing their positional awareness throughout 90 minutes.

The strength of a diamond is the midfield superiority and ability to create chances from various parts of the pitch. The weakness of the system lies with the enormous amount of work that needs to be put in by the midfielders and wing backs along with the tactical discipline that needs to be maintained. The formation is probably at its best when used in a counter-attacking sense where it allows the athletic midfielders to win the ball back in the centre of the pitch and drive up the field, feeding the offensive no. 10.

Is a diamond the answer to Manchester United’s monotony in the attacking third?

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Image Source: Twitter.com

Manchester United’s squad looks pretty good on paper, as they almost always do. However, they seem to be struggling to translate that quality into goals and clean sheets on the pitch. As far as teams that are good on the paper go, it must be understood that more often than not, it is simply because of the wrong system that’s being played out. Any team’s success depends on their players and a system that brings the best out of these players. Parking the bus with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and playing all-out attacking football with Sean Dyche’s Burnley side would almost guarantee the ultimate embarrassments.

Manchester United went on a 19 game unbeaten run towards the business end of last season. They looked pretty comfortable at the back and also seemed to have found some spark through Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United faced the task of a dismounting resurgent Chelsea side under Frank Lampard in the FA cup semi-final. Ole Gunnar Solskjær showed faith in his no.1 shot-stopper over Sergio Romero, who had helped United reach thus far in the competition. It was going all well for them until 3-time Manchester United player of the year, David De Gea fumbled. United’s unbeaten streak came to an end that day and so did their creative spark. Much hasn’t changed since then for them. Summer additions have been below expectations as the club failed to sign their top targets, however, one must not be forgotten that this team still has plenty to offer.

Donny Van De Beek, Alex Telles, Edinson Cavani and a couple of other teenage talents (whose names I can’t seem to recall at the moment – no disrespect intended) still look like an average window by United’s standards. Most people seem to overlook the fact that United have fine players to pull off the midfield diamond. In the 61 league games that he has overseen so far, Solskjær has used the diamond 9 times. The difference in terms of expected goals or xG according to fbref.com has been almost negligible.  So it isn’t to say that this system is completely unfamiliar within MUFC ranks.

Also Read: Players from the Championship to watch out for in the Premier League

If we are to compare United’s players with the classic 4-3-1-2 diamond formation, the results may surprise you. Starting at the back, United have versatile wing-backs in Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Now what is special about having these two is the fact that one of them loves going forward while the other excels at the back. Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few years or so, you would know exactly who does what. With Telles venturing forward, Wan-Bissaka gets to stick with his backline which allows United to switch to a virtual 3-4-3 option mid-game and vice versa. This switch would offer united added flexibility at the back which could further shore up their defensive strengths.

Moving onto the midfield, this is the real trump card that Solskjær has. In Paul Pogba and Donny Van De Beek, OGS has two of the most adept central midfielders in the modern game. Van De Beek is a clever operator on the ball, he is very smart about his positioning, he has phenomenal distribution and has got good passing range. Perhaps one of the most underrated traits about him is the impeccable runs that he makes into the box. His predatory instincts as a midfielder are one of his lesser spoken about attributes. He has it all to become a complete goal scoring midfielder, almost reminding us of a young Frank Lampard.

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Paul Pogba on the other hand is no stranger to this role as it was this position that put him amongst Europe’s elite during his meteoric rise at Juventus. Scott McTominay is a midfielder who likes to play up the field but playing at the base of the diamond might just be the key to unlocking Manchester United’s attacking potential. He is a solid midfielder who reads the game well, has defensive acumen (like Matic & Fred), wins aerial duels (Unlike Fred) and also has the legs to keep up with the work rate that a midfield diamond demands (Unlike Matic). Frankly, I find it quite surprising that Solskjær hasn’t tried this out yet.

Upfront, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are two players who’re very much accustomed to playing the striker and winger roles down the years. Maintaining the balance between who drifts wide and who plays down the centre becomes a seamless transition. The icing on the cake, Bruno Fernandes gets to play his favourite position, at the tip of the diamond. When it comes a 4-3-1-2 diamond, the free-scoring 10 role almost coincides with the duties of a false 9. By playing Bruno Fernandes there, it allows Rashford and Martial to find space and drift as per their instincts. Fernandes is gifted with the ability to find his teammates gracefully; therefore this definitely falls in United’s favour in terms of finding creative sparks upfront.  Speaking of sparks, the Portuguese Superstar knows a thing or two about goalscoring and providing fireworks. Playing him at the offensive tip of the diamond might just be the last piece to unveiling Manchester United, as a lethal side.

The jury’s still out on whether the diamond is the solution to revive United’s past glories. However, given the current state of the club, this should be an option worth considering for Solskjær’s side sooner rather than later. This club has massive potential, Solskjær simply needs to be brave and try this because if he doesn’t, someone else will.

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