Zinedine Zidane is reportedly ‘desperate’ to replace Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager.
Zidane, the former Real Madrid boss, has made himself available and is already taking English lessons as pressure continues to mount on Jose Mourinho after the Red Devils’ shaky start to the season.
Should Mourinho be axed, Zidane is expecting to be contacted by United chiefs over the vacancy, and reports earlier this month claim he’s already preparing for that situation.
At the beginning of September, the Mirror claimed that the former France international has already been building a shortlist of transfer targets he would want to bring to Old Trafford.
Four players reported to be high on Zidane’s list are Edinson Cavani, the Paris Saint-Germain forward, as well as midfielders Toni Kroos of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara, and James Rodriguez – who is currently on loan at Bayern from Zidane’s former side Real.
Signing all four players would require a serious financial outlay on United’s part, but the club could agree to such a big spend to please their new manager.
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But how would Zidane combine these four signings into United’s current squad to field a starting XI able to challenge at the highest level?
At the Bernabeu, Zidane showed incredible flexibility when it came to tactical systems, utilising one, two and three forward formations at various times throughout his tenure.
However, he did have a favoured approach of four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards, either lining up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-1-2.
The former system often saw Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio selected in the wide positions, though they played more like inside-forwards than classic wingers, while the latter system had Isco in the number 10 role, taking on the majority of Real’s attacking duties.
If appointed United boss, it is expected Zidane would implement one of these two systems at Old Trafford. He would need a two-striker system to find space for both transfer target Cavani and United’s current forward Romelu Lukaku, while the midfield would have to include all of Kroos, Thiago and James Rodriguez – the trio on Zidane’s shortlist.
The 4-3-1-2 (above) seems to be the best fit for Zidane’s targets, as it would allow him to fit all three midfielders in, whilst also retaining Nemanja Matic in the holding role. For all the excellence of Real Madrid’s ball-playing midfielders, Brazil international Casemiro has been one of their most important players over the last few years in the role of destroyer. His incredible ability to break up play reduces the amount of defensive work his team-mates need to complete, thus allowing them to focus on the thing they should focus on – getting the ball forward.
As there is no real width in the midfield or attacking zones, there is a lot of pressure on the full-backs to stretch play in the final third, and Luke Shaw, the left-back, looks perfect for this role having started the season so well. Antonio Valencia is an adequate option on the right, though it would not be a surprise to see Zidane either using Diogo Dalot or targeting an upgrade on the Old Trafford veteran should he be appointed manager to replace Mourinho.
Alternatively, Zidane could utilise the 4-4-2 (below) – though this would be a much more risky approach.
The key benefit of this system is the inclusion of another attacking player (Alexis Sanchez) to take the pressure to create play off the shoulders of the number 10 in the 4-3-1-2. You still have the number 10 (James Rodriguez), but he plays a more withdrawn role and finally has support in the final third.
However, the huge negative is just how isolated the two-man midfield would find themselves, especially without a designated destroyer selected in the starting line-up. Matic is far too slow to play in a two-man midfield, but Zidane evidently does not think a new defensive midfielder is a priority given his shortlist of targets.
The above line-up, featuring Zidane’s targets, would have the manager putting a remarkable amount of faith in Kroos and Thiago to never cheaply concede possession. If they were to lose the ball in the midfield zone, United’s opponents would have acres of space to run into as they launched an attack on David de Gea’s goal.
The main absentee from both of Zidane’s potential line-ups is Paul Pogba, and his decision to target three midfielders suggests Zidane has no desire to keep Pogba around. It is believed either one or the other, Pogba or Mourinho, will leave Old Trafford soon enough, but if Zidane comes in it could be both forced out the club.
The 4-3-1-2 appears to be the more suitable formation for Zidane to implement if chosen to replace Mourinho at Old Trafford, but it looks as if United would still be far away from winning the Premier League title – even if the club sign the four players Zidane is targeting above all others.
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