Antonio Conte’s decision to adopt the 3-4-3 formation at Chelsea has been influential in the narrative of the Premier League season. While Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have stumbled over different formations and team selections, Conte has persisted with the shape that brought him so much success with Juventus and the Italian national team. Chelsea’s balance of defensive solidity, work ethic in midfield, and mercurial attacking talents have pushed the Londoners to within touching distance of the title.
There are few greater crimes in football than Louis van Gaal’s decision to sideline Ander Herrera for much of his two-year reign. It had little to with the Spaniard’s ability. The midfield terrier has plenty of talent. Instead, Herrera’s exclusion appeared to be a clash of ideologies. Van Gaal’s possession obsession versus Herrera’s aggression; the Dutchman’s patience against a streak of recklessness. No longer. Herrera is important again, a man fit for José Mourinho’s regime. One fully understood by his manager, and the supporters.
It was bound to happen. Even the staunchest José Mourinho defendant understood that the Portuguese manager comes with a guarantee of friction in the dressing room. Some supporters were surprised that it happened so soon. Don’t be. It works.
The transfer rumour machine that surrounds Manchester United can be a frustrating affair. More often than not gossip claiming the imminent arrival at Old Trafford of big names fails to materialised into anything concrete. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement the fourth estate has confidently predicted the acquisition of Thiago Alcântara, Cesc Fàbregas, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Thomas Müller and, everyone’s favourite, Nicolás Gaitán. None have ended up gracing the Old Trafford turf. Is Antione Griezmann the latest in a long line, or another record-breaking buy in the making?
When José Mourinho first took the helm at Manchester United last summer wild transfer speculation greeted the Portuguese’s arrival. The summer promised a raft of new players, with many more on the way out in another window of change at Old Trafford. The usual suspects were prepared for exit, with Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones among those singled out for special attention. Rojo’s apparent poor quality and Jones’ injury record made exit all the more likely. Somehow, it hasn’t worked out like that.
It has been a season of inconsistency, a fact highlighted by José Mourinho’s indecision when it comes to his starting team. Case in point, Mourinho has named the same line up in consecutive matches just once this season, at home to Southampton followed by the trip to Hull City. While injuries can disrupt team selection, Manchester United lies 15th on the ‘injury league table’ this season. In truth, it is far more likely reason that constant tinkering is the result of Mourinho not knowing his best side. But one point of consistent excellence this season has been Michael Carrick.