Manchester United making hard work of finding the solution that’s right in front of them

Against Rostov at Old Trafford during Thursday’s Europa League game, we saw a tantalising glimpse of a hitherto unexpected flexibility in Jose Mourinho’s thinking. However, against a team of limited personnel, talent and ambition, poor implementation and lack of confidence stymied United instead of liberating them.

His Chelsea teams, especially the all-conquering team of the first era, was a classic Dutch 4-3-3 with the central midfielder of three (literally) in the Makelele position and the two wide attackers essentially playing as wingers. At United, he’s attempted to embrace the attacking tradition by swapping the anchor man for a trequartista, without ever giving probably his most natural number 10 – Juan Mata – the chance to cement that position.

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‘My Turn’ by Johan Cruyff

Contrary to popular opinion, Johan Cruyff had two signature moves. His autobiography, written as he was dying from cancer and published in October 2016 by Macmillan, spends two sentences on one and 200 pages on the other.

In a 1974 World Cup group stage match, Cruyff controls a long ball out on the Dutch left wing – badly, which is ironic given how many times in the book he emphasises the importance of the first touch – and is faced up by Swedish defender Jan Olsson. With his back to goal and Olsson clinging to him closer than a horny puppy, Cruyff feints to play the ball backwards, infield, with his right foot. Rather than pass Cruyff continued the fluid movement by dragging the ball inside his own standing foot and pivoting 180 degrees towards goal. Olsson, whom Wikipedia describes as ‘the first victim of the Cruyff turn’, bought the dummy so completely and comprehensively that he did not realise that Cruyff had gone in the opposite direction until the second week of April, 1975.

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