There has never been more scrutiny over Jose Mourinho’s tactics. Defeats against Newcastle and Tottenham have led to doubts over how he has set Manchester United up.
Then there is the eternal Paul Pogba question, carried around the Portuguese’s shoulders like an albatross. How do you get the best out of the flash but extremely talented midfielder?
The criticism has not been severe but it could be after Sevilla. On Wednesday night, he needs to get his formation right. And there is enough reason to believe a change may be on the cards.
There has never been more scrutiny on Jose Mourinho and how he sets Manchester United up
The Paul Pogba question is also hanging over the Portuguese manager amid his poor form
Eric Bailly’s return to fitness means Mourinho has another consideration to make
Mourinho has an excellent record in Europe. He won the Champions League with Porto to truly announce his arrival and then led a workmanlike Inter Milan side to the trophy in 2010.
Last season he also blitzed the Europa League. Mourinho also showed his aptitude for a knockout competition by picking up the EFL Cup along the way.
There’s a reason why he is such a good cup manager. His teams are designed to not make any mistakes. They then rely on individuals to make the difference at the top end of the pitch.
That, often, means success in a one-off match. It has become a problem in the Premier League, where Pep Guardiola has shown the importance of fluency in attack, but that does not apply as heavily in cups and in Europe.
Mourinho is a cup specialist and part of that comes in the change in shape he makes in Europe
There is also a significant tactical change that has generally occurred in Europe where Mourinho is concerned.
He tends to prefer a 4-2-3-1 domestically. The base of two midfielders supporting a trio stuffed with individual talent and a striker to hold the ball up and bring those stars into play.
The problem with that has been that it is easy to get overrun in midfield. This, in particular, is where the issue Pogba comes in. A two means they have to sit. He is not designed for that. He was bullied by Mousa Dembele in the Spurs game in particular.
There are other issues with the way Mourinho lines up that formation, ones that have been exploited in those two recent defeats. It is simply too rigid, those four lines sticking to their shape without any flexibility.
There is a very good chance that Mourinho will switch to a three-man midfield against Sevilla
The 4-2-3-1 Mourinho usually stick with
If another team simply puts another body in there then they cannot cope with it. Newcastle played a four-man midfield and it stopped United. Spurs had Christian Eriksen, who loves to drift into the middle. He was superb in that game at Wembley.
What Pogba is absolutely perfect for is a three-man central midfield set up. It allows him to get up and down the field, influence play at the top end and also drive the team forward when they have the ball at the back.
There is a hope for both Pogba and United fans that want to see the best of him that Mourinho will turn to that formation on Wednesday evening.
That, in part, is where his success in Europe comes from. United used that 4-2-3-1 shape last season, in the main, but not in the latter stages of the Europa League. When they came up against sides that could actually hurt them, they turned to the three.
That would be to the benefit of Pogba, who is best suited to featuring in a three in midfield
It’s there in the semi-final game against Celta Vigo — Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Pogba. The final saw Mourinho turn to a three again — the same three, in fact.
They won both of those games. There was an element of fluidity between midfield and attack that you do not see from them in a 4-2-3-1.
The irony of it is that Mourinho probably sees the 4-3-3 as a more defensive system, which is his instinct when handed a tough test. The reality is that it offers more going forward.
How Manchester United should line up
It would be a surprise not to see Mourinho crack it out again in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, although he could always stick with his 4-2-3-1.
With Pogba returning after his illness, and Mourinho undoubtedly keen to cast aside any suggestions of a feud, building the team around getting the best out of him seems the way to go.
The other question is whether Eric Bailly starts. He finally returned to the squad against Huddersfield after a long lay-off.
While there will be doubts over his fitness, selecting him would surely be an improvement over the pairing of Phil Jones — who has not travelled — and Chris Smalling. Using Victor Lindelof, who has not resembled a £31million defender this season, would be an issue.
The Ivorian is therefore likely to be given a starting berth too.
The pressure is on Mourinho to get it right. He’s not one for change. But his record suggests doing what is best for United would not involve much of one.
The Ivorian Bailly would help United’s defence against Sevilla on Wednesday evening