Is Jose Mourinho planning to switch back to the 4-3-3 formation?


Jose Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea proved to be an era defining tenure. The 4-3-3 formation, Jose employed at Chelsea completely changed the face of the Premier League. His Chelsea side in 2004/05 lost only one game the entire season and conceded the fewest goals in a season ever in the Premier League with a record 25 clean sheets. Premier League teams which were still playing with the 4-4-2 formation simply had no answer to Chelsea.

‘Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things’.

-Jose Mourinho

Read:Football Tactics for Beginners: The Makelele Role

But later on at Inter, Mourinho used a variety of formations including the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1. Probably his Inter tenure was when Mourinho was at his reactive best. Brilliant victories over Chelsea and Barcelona culminated in a clinical performance in the final against Bayern in the Champions League.

At Real Madrid, Mourinho generally stuck to then popular 4-2-3-1 formation. Some people may term his time at the Santiago Bernabeu a failure but he was up against one the greatest club teams ever in Pep’s Barcelona. In the end, he did manage to beat Barcelona and won the league for Real. He continued using the 4-2-3-1 formation in his second stint at Chelsea and even in his first season at Manchester United. Although, Mourinho being Mourinho, the team always adapted to the opposition and the situation but the basic structure they followed in the majority of the games was the 4-2-3-1 formation.

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With many news outlets reporting that Nemanja Matic has already agreed terms with United and Fabinho reportedly set to join him at Old Trafford, does this signal a shift in Mourinho’s tactics? It was clear when he brought Paul Pogba back to the club that he wanted to build his Manchester United around the Frenchman. Pogba’s first season has been underwhelming at times and Mourinho struggled to find the Frenchman’s best position on the pitch.

Pogba excelled in a left sided central midfield role for Juventus who played with a midfield diamond. He doesn’t have the discipline to play a deeper role as of yet. Against Manchester City at Old Trafford in the Premier League, United were cut open again and again in the first half when Pogba’s defensive positioning was poor or at times even non-existent. But the lack of a proper defensive holding midfielder stopped Mourinho from employing the 4-3-3 consistently last season. Ander Herrera was impressive in the deeper role while Pogba in the latter half started to show more responsibility and played well as part of the midfield two.

But the deeper role restricts Pogba’s ability to influence the game in the final third of the pitch. Adding a holding midfielder to the mix can liberate the Frenchman to take up more attacking positions and attack freely. With Ander Herrera’s playmaking ability along with his new found defensive nous, United will have a solid double pivot in midfield with Paul Pogba slightly ahead of them. In home games, Mourinho could go back to the 4-2-3-1 formation or flip the midfield trivote to partner Pogba with a more attacking midfield partner.

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The 4-3-3 formation allows more freedom to the wingers than the 4-2-3-1, where they are expected to track back. One of Jose Mourinho’s criticisms in the last season with Man United was with his use of his wingers. Most often in big games, players like Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan found themselves playing as wing backs deep in their own half. None of the players who played on the wings for United last season had a successful one. This included the likes of Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The 4-3-3 might bring out the best out of United’s under-performing wingers.

United have been a lacking a proper defensive midfielder from a long time and it looks like Jose Mourinho is going to buy two of them this season. Both Matic and Fabinho will be excellent signings but more importantly they might just get the best out of Manchester United’s biggest signing ever, Paul Pogba.



Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid – A Tactical Analysis-Terzis Athanasios

This book along with the second part give the reader a full analysis of Real Madrid’s attacking and defending tactics which had been so important to their success under Jose Mourinho. They scored 121 goals in La Liga and this book shows Real’s 4-2-3-1 system of play, each player’s responsibilities, positioning and movement within every possible phase of play. Although Mourinho’s Real were always under the shadow of Pep’s Barca,they were easily one of the best counterattacking teams in this era.

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