Manchester United: Tactical tweak provides Solskjaer solace

01 November 2021 00:52:13 GMTPlus10
Victor Lindelof was part of the United back three against Spurs

The pressure was on both Nuno Espirito Santo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heading into Saturday's teatime kick-off, but it was the Norwegian who came out smiling.

After Manchester United's 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool, Solskjaer needed to make a change and did do, switching to a back-three.

Spurs, in contrast, again struggled to find their rhythm and doubts remain as to whether Nuno is the man to lead them back into the Champions League.

Age only a number for Solskjaer

Raphael Varane's return to fitness facilitated United's switch to a three-man defence and the Frenchman's composure provided poise and balance at the back.

Varane's positioning between Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire meant he always had time on the ball and provided cover when his colleagues had opportunities to advance.

The tweak also enabled Solskjaer to start with a front two, with Edinson Cavani partnering Cristiano Ronaldo in attack.

Cavani's work-rate allowed Ronaldo to pick his moments, expertly opening the scoring with a volley after 39 minutes. The Uruguayan then benefitted from a wonderful assist from CR7 to double the advantage after 64 minutes, before Marcus Rashford completed the scoring late on.

With a combined age of 70, Cavani and Ronaldo are hardly the future, but the pair both still carry a world class threat and may well be able to steer Solskjaer through his latest sticky patch.

No letting up in the fixture list

The three-man rearguard looks likely to stay on Tuesday when United head to Italy to face Atalanta in the Champions League, for a match they are 2.30 to win.

United have taken six points from their three games in Group F to top the pool. However, they lost their opener at Young Boys 2-1, and had to come from behind in home wins against Villarreal and La Dea, Ronaldo netting the winner on both occasions.

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Atalanta also play with a back three, so matching them up might not be a bad idea, but they also approach the game with a lot more dynamism than Spurs and their fluid attack will test the Red Devils.

However, a win in Bergamo would also boost United's morale heading into next Saturday's first derby of the season. Manchester City suffered a shock 2-0 defeat to Crystal Palace in their last outing and are also in Champions League action against Club Brugge on Wednesday.

After being knocked out of the League Cup by West Ham ahead of that Palace defeat, Pep Guardiola may have some thinking to do.

The Citizens were unbeaten in their two trips to Old Trafford last term, drawing 0-0 in the Premier League and 2-0 in the League Cup. A United win on Saturday is 4.75, with the draw 4.20 and a City victory priced at 1.66.

What now for Nuno?

Every argument has two sides and while there was delight for Solskjaer, there was only distress for Nuno.

The Portuguese was criticised from the stands when he replaced Lucas Moura with Steven Bergwijn after just 54 minutes, while the end of the game was greeted by boos from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium faithful.

Harry Kane again struggled to be a factor, but things could have been so much different had Cristian Romero been onside when he found the net in the opening half-hour.

Nuno was only appointed on 30th June, but already there seem to be doubts over whether he is the man to lead the Lilywhites forward, with rumours abound that Daniel Levy is pondering a third managerial change in less than two years.

Saturday's result marked his side's fifth Premier League defeat of the season and the statistics from the game make for tough reading, with the hosts failing to record a shot on goal.

Next up is Vitesse in the Conference League on Thursday, but with his side eighth at the time of writing and 1.001 for a top-six finish, the focus may already be on next Sunday's trip to fellow European hopefuls Everton.

Conte spectre looms

As was the case with Solskjaer and United last week, it is now Nuno and Tottenham's turn to be linked with Antonio Conte.

As with last season's situation with Mauricio Pochettino, the Italian's availability means he'll continue to be linked with any top job that looks set to come on the market.

Rumours from his homeland suggest the 52-year-old is keen to bide his time and wait for the right opportunity to come along, with his preference to be given a full summer to put his own stamp on a side. However, would he be able to resist if one of the big guns came calling?

Conte's record is excellent, winning four Serie A crowns across spells with Juventus and Inter Milan, as well as claiming the Premier League and FA Cup while at Chelsea.

That said, his tenures at Chelsea and Inter both ended in him walking away after disagreements with the board and it's believed his demanding personality previously cost him the chance to manage Real Madrid.

Is Conte's confrontational style what Spurs need to arrest their current slide? Or should they stick with Santo and give him time to turn things around?

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