Mauricio Pochettino has been spoken about for so long as a potential future Manchester United manager that the Argentine has surely pondered how he would reshape the team at Old Trafford were he one day appointed. Now, he might actually have to turn those thoughts into action.
Widespread reports claim Pochettino is United’s first-choice to replace the recently dismissed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the 49-year-old believed to be open to the idea of leaving Paris Saint-Germain, where he hasn’t even been in place for a year, to take over at Old Trafford.
But how would a Manchester United team with Pochettino at the helm actually look? If Antonio Conte was deemed an awkward tactical fit for the group of players currently at the club, would the former Tottenham Hotspur manager fare any better?
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Solskjaer’s inability to coordinate a high press towards the end of his tenure as Manchester United manager was widely identified as one of the reasons for his downfall. Pochettino, however, is proven in his ability to forge a proactive team that presses high up the pitch - see how his Tottenham side played.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s inability, or unwillingness, to press was an issue for Solskjaer and it would give Pochettino plenty to ponder too. However, the Argentine would almost certainly stand a better chance of achieving cohesion behind Ronaldo to compensate. This isn’t too different to what he did with Harry Kane at Spurs.
Other elite level managers favour a higher press than Pochettino, but the 49-year-old would implement a proactive style designed to stop opposition attacks before they can cause damage. This is very different to the way United played under Solskjaer when opposition teams found it extremely easy to cut through.
Full-backs getting forward
At Tottenham, Pochettino looked to his full-backs to provide an attacking outlet. This would be good news for Luke Shaw, a naturally attack-minded full-back who also worked under Pochettino during their time together at Southampton, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s spot in the XI might be under threat.
Wan-Bissaka is renowned as one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League, but his attacking output has been widely questioned. Kieran Trippier has been mentioned in the past as a transfer target for United, and it’s feasible that Pochettino could push for a reunion with the England international at his new club. In the meantime, though, Diogo Dalot might be a more suitable option.
Manchester United defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Image credit: Getty Images
While Spurs were renowned for their modern, fluid attacking play, Pochettino built his team on a solid defensive foundation. Indeed, Tottenham boasted the best defensive record in the Premier League over the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons and so it’s reasonable to assume that Pochettino would view addressing United’s defensive vulnerabilities as one of his first points of order as manager.
Raphael Varane is an exceptional all-rounder and would surely be a key member of Pochettino’s team, but the Argentine likes a left-footer in his centre-back pairing to provide balance (Jan Vertonghen played this role for Totteham). This could see United enter the transfer market as Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly are all right-footed.
Comfortable in possession
At their best under Solskjaer, Manchester United were a counter-attacking outfit. However, they struggled to control matches through their use of possession with the likes of Fred and Maguire vulnerable to a high press from the opposition. Even when United did see plenty of the ball, they struggled for ideas on how best to use it.
This would almost certainly change under Pochettino whose teams are known for being effective with the ball at their feet. The Argentine would likely use the 4-2-3-1 formation that Solskjaer favoured, but with the No 10 in this system (Bruno Fernandes) dropped closer to the double pivot.
Tottenham Hotspur's Moussa Dembele
Image credit: Getty Images
Pochettino would also look to find a Moussa Dembele-like figure in central midfield - someone who can advance the ball through dribbling without conceding possession cheaply. This could see Scott McTominay embraced as a first-team figure with the Scot at his best when he is given the freedom to stride forward with the ball at his feet. Donny van de Beek might also be pushed up the pecking order.
No big egos
On the surface, it’s difficult to understand why Pochettino would be willing to leave PSG, who boast the strongest XI in football, for Manchester United. However, the Argentine has long struggled to tolerate big egos, something that has proved a problem for him in the Parc des Princes dressing room.
Of course, Pochettino would still have some egos to deal with at Old Trafford (cough… Ronaldo… cough), but he would also have a number of squad members eager to buy into his ideology. Anyone who does not buy into Pochettino’s approach might be pushed to the side or even out of the exit door.
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