3 Winners and 3 Losers if Conte Joins United

Conte's Italian Mindset Works Wonders for a few but ruins others

Antonio Conte is well known for using a 3-5-2 formation and repopularising it back on the European scene and it's proved more than effective during his title-winning spells with Juventus, Chelsea, and most recently, Inter Milan.

This formation offers tactical versatility, with Conte showcasing how his teams can line up in a 3-5-2 and switch to 3-4-3 while attacking, or a 5-4-1 while defending and all you have to do is look at how Chelsea won 30 of 38 league games and went on a run of 13 Premier League wins in a row to see how successful this can be.

He also had the third-highest points per game ratio for a manager in the Premier League, behind only Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola and his 93 points in the title-winning season with Chelsea, Conte secured 93 points, which only Jose Mourinho bettered beforehand. Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have since bettered this.

For Conte, a typical matchday lineup would have consisted of a defensive three made up of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, and current Chelsea captain, Cesar Azpilicueta. The heart of the midfield five consisted of defensive-minded duo N’Golo Kante and current United midfielder, Nemanja Matic, as Spanish playmaker Cesc Fabregas linked up the play between midfield and attack where Paul Pogba found success at Juventus under Conte.

On the flanks, the Italian made use of defensive wingbacks in the shape of Victor Moses on the right and Marcos Alonso on the left. With all this in mind, we take a look at who is set to win and lose if Conte comes in.

Winner: Paul Pogba

Conte was manager of Juventus when a fresh-faced, 19-year-old Pogba signed from United in 2012. The teenager was deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford but under Conte, Pogba became a star after winning three Serie A titles and the Coppa Italia, as well as achieving the personal accolade of winning the 2013 FIFA Golden Boy award.

Pogba’s reputation grew massively in Turin, ultimately leading to a return to Manchester in a deal worth £89m in 2016. Pogba’s development under Conte was aided by having midfield partners such as Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo, Chilean powerhouse Arturo Vidal, and German World Cup winner Sami Khedira.

Having these defensive midfielders around the Frenchman was seen as a crucial aspect of getting the best out of Pogba, as they provided him with the freedom to be the link between midfield and attack. However, United’s defensive midfield options have been questioned regularly recently, with many believing first team regulars Scott McTominay and Fred aren’t getting the job done.

If Pogba is to become Conte’s main man in midfield, United will need to invest in at least one tried and tested defensive midfielder. Bruno Fernandes is an unlikely sacrifice given his contributions, but for Pogba, he should flourish once more.

Winner: Harry Maguire

The Manchester United captain has had a dismal month at the core of their defence which has conceded 12 goals in the last three games. United have been without four-time Champions League winner Raphael Varane in recent weeks, however, with only one clean sheet in their last 19 games, it’s clear United have had problems in defence even when Varane was in the team.

Maguire has come under heavy scrutiny due to the results, and the United defender was noticeably distraught after being dismantled by Mohamed Salah and Liverpool at the weekend. However, if Conte changes United’s defence to three at the back Maguire might be able to regain his reputation as one of the league's best centre-backs. For the England national side which recently set a new record of keeping 12 consecutive clean sheets in international games, Maguire is often deployed in a defensive three alongside Manchester City duo John Stones and Kyle Walker.

In a Conte back three, alongside an experienced Varane and either Lindelof or Bailly, Maguire might just be able to start to justify his £80m once more and what he lacks in pace will start to take a back seat for his Rolls Royce-esque nature on the ball.

Winner: Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani enjoyed a solid first season with United when he joined on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2020. The Uruguayan scored 17 goals for the Red Devils in his debut season, and he played a pivotal role in their journey to the Europa League final, scoring six goals in five appearances.

However, the start of the 2021 season saw Cavani lose the famous number seven shirt to the incoming Cristiano Ronaldo, and this also saw him get dropped to the bench as the Portuguese superstar has taken his place in the starting lineup.

Cavani has made just six appearances this season, and his absence has been noticeable in terms of United’s movement off the ball as well as the overall work ethic of the side. He’s a striker who likes to press and put pressure on defenders, a trait which is often noticeable in the strikers used by Conte.

An attacking duo of Cavani and Ronaldo would be enough to strike fear into even the most experienced Premier League defences, and if the two veterans have a solid midfield base supporting them and providing defence-shattering passes, they could end up becoming one of the Premier League’s greatest strike partnerships.

Loser: Mason Greenwood

Although the United youngster has made a great start to his professional football career by scoring 33 goals in 117 appearances, it's unclear how his style of play would fit with Conte’s 3-5-2 formation.

The United youth product has quickly become a fan favourite at Old Trafford, and his ability to score with either foot is beyond world class but this isn't enough to get in a Conte side.

Questions have been raised regarding his defensive capabilities and work off the ball, with many believing his more natural position is as a striker and therefore, he doesn’t possess the defensive know-how to track back and help defenders from his current right-wing position.

But would he start ahead of Cavani and Ronaldo as one of the attacking two? It’s difficult to say. However, with Marcus Rashford another obvious choice to start as a striker it’s difficult to see how United’s attacking players will be able to share the two positions and Conte would likely favour Cavani and Ronaldo down the centre.

Loser: Anthony Martial

A player who is already out of favour could see himself phased out even more if Conte takes over at United is Anthony Martial. The Frenchman has seen his minutes for the first team decrease more and more recently, with a string of poor performances as well as the arrival of Jadon Sancho meaning he is no longer a regular on Solskjaer’s team sheet and in truth, deservingly so.

United have a plethora of attacking options, particularly wingers, with Martial having stiff competition from the likes of Marcus Rashford, Sancho, Mason Greenwood, and young Ivory Coast international Amad Diallo. Plus, with Ronaldo and Cavani to contend with, the chances of Martial starting as a striker are even less.

It’s unclear whether Martial has a future at United, but with this being said, Conte does have a recent history of resurrecting United players, having coached former Reds Matteo Darmian, Alexis Sanchez, Ashley Young, and Romelu Lukaku at Inter.

Nevertheless, there isn't a person throughout the whole squad who would be at risk more than Martial.

Loser: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

English full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a bit of an enigma. While the 23-year-old has proved to be one of the best tacklers in the world, his attacking play, positional sense, and passing ability remain below par and it consistently seems to trouble United going forward.

Conte’s use of wing-backs rather than full-backs means that these players need to be good enough on the ball to join the attack and provide crosses from wide areas, as well as having the intelligence to track back and cover the wings from oncoming attacks.

At Inter, Conte signed Moroccan defender Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid who played as a right-sided wingback where he contributed seven goals and eight assists in 37 league games during Inter’s title-winning season. Wan-Bissaka, on the other hand, has only two goals and 11 assists from 120 league appearances. It goes without saying that should Conte come in, Diogo Dalot may finally get a chance.

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