Why are we obsessed with playing with only 2 midfielders?

noodlehair

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Just been thinking about this more and more. Not only now but for the majority of Ole's tenure, we seem to insist on having 2 midfielders and using what would be the third midfielder as an extra forward.

It's become a self feeding problem now where we haven't properly strengthened our midfield possibly at least partly due to only thinking we need 2 starting midfielders, and now not having enough midfielders to pick 3 even if we wanted to.

What other (good) teams get away with playing this system? Chelsea play 3 midfielders, Liverpool play 3 midfielders, City might push forwards more but they still have 3 people occupying the midfield.

We used to play with two under Sir Alex, but 1) We would almost always play a third midfielder against any decent opposition, 2) We'd use Carrick to effectively bypass the midfield anyway, 3) It probably wouldn't work now even with players like Carrick or Scholes.

I don't understand what the thinking is. The only way I can see you get away with being a man light in the middle of the park, is by not contesting the ball there and sitting your midfield on the edge of your own area, and playing purely on the break...but we don't do this. For a spell under Ole we did it against some of the better teams, and it sometimes worked, but it never worked (if we never really even tried it) against anyone else. As soon as you try to contest the midfield while a man light, any semi organised team is surely just going to play round you. Every team now has athletic players in this area. Every team does their homework on their opponent.

I don't envisage how its ever going to work. I thought the midfield would do for Ole this season as soon as it was obvious a midfielder wasn't his main priority, because it was already glaringly obvious. Now I don't know if Rangnik still hasn't recognised this as a problem, or just doesn't have the personel to do anything about it...it could be the latter but then on more than one occasion now he's chosen to play Matic in a two man midfield, which it's just so obviously is a bad idea I can't think why anyone would do it unless they haven't clocked on that its an issue at all. If you play Matic you HAVE to play 3 midfielders or play entirely on the counter.

When are we going to stop doing this? Are we going to stop doing it? The only pro argument I can see is to fit Fernandes into the team, but any other team would do that anyway either by playing him in a system where he acts as a third midfielder, or sacrificing one of the other forwards.
 

Dr Foo

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True that. We played some of our best football, albeit in patches, in recent years with 4 - 3 - 3. Under Van Gaal with Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini and Solskjaer's initial stint with Matic, Herrera and Pogba. We should be using it more to 'control' games if that is the intention as this team is still not fully equipped to do so in a 4222. Let's see if VDB would be of effect more in a 3..
 

Nordmore

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Because every systems with a 3 men midfield would need at least a defensive midfielder. I've never seen a system with 3 pure central midfielders.
 

OmarUnited4ever

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I think the issue is more tactical rather than only an insistence on 2 man midfield, for example, you would see City wingers keeping width, the 8s (KdB & B.Silva) going up to the space between FB & CB, while City's DM holding, and the FBs at city tucking in playing almost as CM/DM, but it's not only positional/zonal at City, but there is also movement and pressing, with Liverpool, they play with 1DM+2CMs and the FBs push high-up, while the front 3 help with pressing and sometimes one of the 3 front men drops deep, again, this also with coordinated pressing & movements.

With us, you see our wingers keeping width, then Bruno as our AM pushing to press alongside the CF, however, our FBs remain behind the half-line rather than pushing up, and the 2 CMs either holding or one pushing forward, which leaves huge spaces either way, add to that the disjointed pressing and lack of coordinated movements, and it would seem as if we are playing only with 2 man midfield only, even with Rangnick's 4222 formation, which is technically 4 man midfield, it feels as if there is a disconnect between our forward line and the rest of the team.

I am also of the opinion that McFred are not as good as our opponents midfielders (e.g. Fabinho, Rodri, Kante, etc...), but the tactical issue I mentioned above, is exasperated by the mental & attitude problems with these players, if we resolve the tactical issues, and the players improve their attitudes and get into good & consistent form, then even McFred will do fine.
 

mu4c_20le

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I don't understand what the thinking is. The only way I can see you get away with being a man light in the middle of the park, is by not contesting the ball there and sitting your midfield on the edge of your own area, and playing purely on the break...but we don't do this.
Pretty sure we've been doing this in our last couple of games. Like the one against Newcastle I think, someone even posted a photo showing the huge amount of space between our double pivot and the front four. And I can see Ralf doing it more often if route one gets results.
 

Shimo

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I was having almost the same exact thoughts earlier today. Looking back at the games recently against so called weaker teams, we were the ones that were losing the midfield and ceding control. My thoughts then went to the often remark by many, that McFred is not good enough for the premier league. Fred plays for Brazil these days and is a main stay, seems silly to think he isn't at least a premier league player. But, the difference is that in the game, as noodle said, even the lower teams have not only hard working CMs but, all of them have a good amount of quality. When you put 3 such players against 2, not even I think some of best of players from yesteryear be able to maintain control consistently.

The gap between our CM and our front 4 is to wide to maintain any kind of possession when we are playing out the back and too often once the front 4 are got past, teams can easily cut through our 2 because the opposition while not world class, but are competent enough and coached well enough. Today, even the lower teams are coached by manager that want to play more modern possession football.

That extra attacker up front is often a waste right as we are not going to actually get the ball up to them often enough. We'd be better served if we can start taking control of the midfield and then using our quality to pin opposition back, allow our CBs to push up and then the likes of Scott or Fred and whomever else get into more forward areas.
 
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True that. We played some of our best football, albeit in patches, in recent years with 4 - 3 - 3. Under Van Gaal with Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini and Solskjaer's initial stint with Matic, Herrera and Pogba. We should be using it more to 'control' games if that is the intention as this team is still not fully equipped to do so in a 4222. Let's see if VDB would be of effect more in a 3..
The thing is with a 4-2-2-2 the middle 2 are supposed to operate as midfielders without the ball. Aimed to give us 4 in the middle without the ball. Currently they shirk their duty.
 

Rajappar

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I think, for playing 3 man midfield we need atleast 5/6 good solid mid fielders to compete in all 3 fronts.Currently, we are finding it difficult to play with 2 in rotation(MCT, Fred, matic,van Beek).We need atleast 2 more solid midfielders to play 3 in the middle.Otherwise we have to use our 10s which is neither helping us in defence or attack transitions.
 

Gopher Brown

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Well, you can either count Bruno as a midfielder, in which case we do play with 3, or you can count him as a forward, in which case we play 2 to fit Bruno in.
 

FrantikChicken

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Didn't Rangnick say something like it's evident we need to play with 3 midfielders in his villa post match conference?
 
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Well, you can either count Bruno as a midfielder, in which case we do play with 3, or you can count him as a forward, in which case we play 2 to fit Bruno in.
Bruno and his other wide 10 are supposed to operate as midfielders without the ball. The issue is currently they don't bother. Either due to one of zero form, not understanding or not caring
 

Amar__

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Our midfielders are so shit that our manager tend to play them at least as possible?
 

DJ_21

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We could easily play a 4-3-3 with matic as the dm… obviously until we buy a new one as matic is old but he can still do a job. I think the problem is the way the manager uses that player… when matic does play he still roams forward a lot, we need a DM to just stay back and protect the back 4. We’ve got enough quality at the top end of the pitch to get the goals.
 

kthanksbye

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Copying my comment from the midfield problems thread.

I don't think we've ever been able to play a traditional #10, even going back to when we bought Kagawa, we got on the #10 train very late when the entire world was moving away from the #10s, Oscar, Ozil and Gotze were being phased out and we were trying to see how we can fit in Kagawa, we went ahead and bought Mata too and had no idea how to use him.

That problem still persists, Bruno was magical for us with his goal return but our tactic was that to catch teams on the break, there was very little structural and tactical setup to get the best out of him. None of the big teams or successful managers are using an out and out #10. Having one makes it even more difficult to find and develop the two players to play behind that player. It doesn't help that our options are McFred and Matic.

If we're to solve our midfield issue we will have to find two very specific players who between them have the creativity, enough defensive positioning and are able to cover enough ground to counter the opposition's midfield 3.
I don't know who those two players are but I don't for one second believe that we're capable of finding, buying and then playing them in a working system behind Bruno.

So as odd as it might sound, in order to fix our midfield we'll have to either get rid of or reposition our best midfielder.
 

Ayoba

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I've said it all along, we need to play 4-3-3 or at atleast with 3 midfielders in a 4-3-2-1

You cannot play with 2 midfielders in the PL, the only team remotely capable of doing it is Chelsea and that's because they have Ngolo bloody Kante! Against weaker teams I see no reason why this hasn't been tried;

Bruno..... Mctominay.....Fred


Against the stronger teams we could even go with:

Mctominay.....Matic......Fred.

Bruno can be pushed further forward as part of the front 3, we can even bring in Donny as one of the 3 midfielders. In my mind this gives us a chance to control possession better and crucially, the opposition don't simply waltz pass us!
 

Drizzle

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To combine what others have said, the answer is twofold:

1) we have no high quality CDM that is typically used to anchor 3-man midfields

2) Bruno is theoretically a 10 but he usually plays 10 yards further up the pitch almost as an auxiliary striker.
 

Bestietom

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Bring in a couple of midfielders in this window and we might be able to play with 3.
 

NoPace

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I expect the next manager to try to rein in Bruno a bit and play him on the right of a 3 next to a DM we buy and a LCM who can pass and control play a bit.
 

Ash_G

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I think the logic is that we're sacrificing the midfield battle to overload the wide areas. The problem is that our attacking players are individually not playing well nor are they playing well as a unit so that approach isn't working. In reality I think we've been lucky in the past through a combination of DDG/luck in us not conceding and individual moments from an attacker that have masked some of this.

I agree that it doesn't make sense to me to keep doing this as I think the issues in the attack aren't just form- there's a real balance issue there with too many players who either have limitations or need to develop in some way. I don't think not having a pure DM (beyond Matic) is a real barrier to playing 3 in the middle personally (although appreciate not ideal) and don't really get why Bruno couldn't drop a bit deeper- a lot of his best passes are over the top/crosses rather than intricate short passes- plus if we're not constantly trying to recover the ball you'd think there would actually be more opportunity to get our attackers including Bruno on the ball.
 

Pogue Mahone

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Bruno as a false 9 would work great for us but that would no doubt cause a mass throwing of toys out of prams from our mentally fragile (in various different ways) attacking players who end up benched. And the last thing we need is more internal divisions/sulking.
 

AltiUn

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I still have no idea to this day why Mourinho never went with Matic, Pogba and Herrera in midfield.
 

#07

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The thing is with a 4-2-2-2 the middle 2 are supposed to operate as midfielders without the ball. Aimed to give us 4 in the middle without the ball. Currently they shirk their duty.
Agreed.

The 4-2-2-2 was a logical response to our early season issue, which saw our front 4 getting by passed and our middle and defensive thirds being overrun by everyone we played.

IF we played the 4-2-2-2 the way it was designed to played. For argument's sake, the RB Leipzig way. Then it would be difficult to play through the middle of us. This would force opponents down the sides of us, acting as a pressing trigger where the team can use the touchline to force the opponents into bodies. Or force them to play long balls and put the onus on our back line to win 1v1s.

However, besides the first half against Palace we have not seen the players picked as #10s in the 4-2-2-2 do the requisite work to make the system function as designed.
 

Longshanks

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Iv made many posts this season about how we should be playing a midfield three. Something like this

Matic/mctominay

Bruno/V.D.B pogba/Fred
The biggest question marks are over the single pivot of course with matic being over the hill somewhat and question marks over mctoms suitability for the role. But we should be playing this way either way I think the flaws in the cdm will hopefully be covered by making the team more compact. Certainly be nice to see if we could get some midfield control at some point this season.

My concern is we see this midfield infront of a back 5 which kind of makes us short up front and relying on our wingback to offer creativity and we don't have quality wingbacks to play this way.

Basically for gods sake play a 4-3-3 with a single pivot and 2 number 8's will you, pretty please.
 

stoinz

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According to RR, we lack a certain midfield profile. So I don't think it is by choice we play with two.
 

Bilbo

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All roads for this argument will sooner or later lead to Bruno. Personally I think he is someone we should be building the team around, but it doesn't necessarily need to happen the way its been happening. Trying to reign him in to play in a more disciplined 8 role will probably blunt him too much, so using him as a false 9 seems to be worth a try, and could be explosive.

What I expect to happen this month is we will sign a midfielder and Rangnick will move to a diamond formation.
 

Ixion

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Because we've bloated the squad with so many attackers/wingers so we try to shoehorn them in
 

Rozay

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It’s silly and dated. I’ve said as much many times but all I’m told is that Bayern Munich play Thomas Muller so that’s that.
 

Buster15

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According to RR, we lack a certain midfield profile. So I don't think it is by choice we play with two.
It is not just that we set up with only 2 in midfield. But it is the quality of those 2.

I still believe that a game is won or lost in midfield. And if you don't have a good enough quality there, surly you would need to strengthen that is with an additional player.
If you look at our midfielders, none are really good enough to play with just 2.
 

DWelbz19

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I expect the next manager to try to rein in Bruno a bit and play him on the right of a 3 next to a DM we buy and a LCM who can pass and control play a bit.
Fernandes needs to play further up the field if you want the best of him, not deeper.

The reason we don’t play a 3 man midfield right now is simply because you just can’t with the players we have.

A 3 man midfield probably suits the wide attackers a bit more (Rashford/Greenwood/Sancho), but it comes at the cost of Fernandes who would then have no position, unless you play him as a false 9 (he simply cannot play in a midfield 3 or out wide). Not 100% sure the current Ronaldo can really play as a single no.9 like that either as his build-up isn’t there anymore.
 

fergiewherearethou

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If we choose to play with 3 pure midfielders there will be no place for Bruno, unless we play something like 4-3-1-2 narrow like Ole did in very few games.
Bruno was our best player since he came and Ole adjusted the squad to him. Now that he is out of form we find it very difficult to create chances or score goals, there is no one else capable of creating chances.

Playing a 4-3-3 would be ideal for what this tactic means in the history of football, but it would not suit our players, we have mediocre central midfielders and abundant talent in attack that does not get any decent service.
 

UpWithRivers

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A few of us have been saying this for years and years and years.

The only reasons I have come up with is that our fullbacks are not attacking enough and our front 3 are not good enough. Yeah they are good but if you play a solid 3 then you do need the fullbacks to create something and you need your wide forwards to actually put in a cross and create as well sometimes. This resulted in us struggling against the low block. Rashford, Greenwood, Martial play like strikers not wingers. Cut inside/find space/shoot. They are brilliant at this. Some of the best in the world. But if you have defensive fullbacks and a more solid midfield and wide forwards instead of wingers - who is creating the chances?

Ole's idea to get the balance right was to have one defensive fullback - WB and one attacking - Shaw/Telles and to get Bruno to do the creative work. This kind of worked for a while but then teams just started marking out Bruno and pushing higher up the pitch which resulted in us having a back four and McFred sat deep next to our box and then the front four higher up and a massive gap between them with no link between them.

Ralf now has the same problem. Play a 3 and we will not get dominated in midfield but we will also struggle to create chances. However it can be done -

------------------------------De Gea
Dalot---------Varane--------Maguire-----------Shaw
-----McTominay-----Fred-----DVB/Pogba
------------------------------Bruno
Greenwood/Sancho-----------Rashford

Yeah its not perfect. A better RB and a DM and maybe will need to replace DVB/Pogba if they are going but it will be a much better balanced team and you wont see Newcastle and Norwich dominating the sht out of us. Ronaldo can come in and play a more traditional front 3 and we can play more attacking 3 in midfield if necessary like -
--------------------DVB-----Matic-----Pogba
Greenwood/Sancho-----Ronaldo------Rashford

There are lots of combinations. You could even say its a 4-2-2-2 if you want. The positions will change on the pitch with DVB dropping deep and the forwards going wide.
--------------------McTominay-----Fred----
--------------------Bruno-----DVB----
------Sancho/Greenwood-----Rashford----


Now why Ralf hasnt done this? Because he has been here for 7 games! People think he can just walk in and drop Ronaldo, drop Maguire, drop Bruno are delusional. Its impossible. He needs to give everyone in the first team a chance. He needs time to work with them and figure out a system. Also more than half the team is out of form and low in confidence and there is loads of backstabbing and all sorts of issues. So even if he wanted to he cant.

I hope over the next few weeks we will start getting to see Ralf making a real transformation. At the moment he is just fire fighting.
 

KeanoMagicHat

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What other (good) teams get away with playing this system? Chelsea play 3 midfielders, Liverpool play 3 midfielders, City might push forwards more but they still have 3 people occupying the midfield.
Chelsea play 2 midfielders - 3-4-3 is their most common formation. But this formation suits Kanté the most because he's a one-man band in that he's like peak Keane or Vieira in that he can run a midfield up and down the pitch on his own. Jorginho and Kovacic are also very good.

Agree with your general point, and I think Van de Beek has been criminally underused for this reason. Can't understand why won't at least try to pack the midfield, see what happens.
 

Galactic

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We still play with 11 players.

The other 8 outfield players are not performing well in their roles. And that adds to the 2 midfielders being average/sh*te in most games.
 

Smores

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We don't have enough midfielders and our best player for an extended period was a No 10. It's that simple isn't it?

I find myself dislike Pogba but also recognising we need him or a player of his type to unlock any formation as long as Bruno is out of form. McFred with Pogba and Bruno in front should give us control and attacking intent.