While Lukaku, Pogba and Martial have enjoyed a fruitful time in front of goal in the opening two games of the season; much of the credit has to go to the two creative minds operating behind them.
Mata and Mkhitaryan play an intricate role in Manchester United’s midfield. While Mata was central to Mourinho’s set up last season, Mkhitaryan was on the fringes in the Premier League. The starting two games has seen Manchester United turn up, at least on paper, in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mkhitaryan playing out wide and Mata operating more central. However, on the pitch; they seemed to be playing in a 4-3-3; with Mata and Pogba playing higher up the pitch, Matic as the sheet-anchor and Mkhitaryan taking up a wide position. Maybe this is another of Mourinho’s mind games, where he depicts a formation but his team ends up playing in a completely different setup.
While it is indeed true that Mkhitaryan takes up a wider role and Mata appears to be more central; the way they set up during the game appears slightly more different.
Manchester United have managed to keep 2 clean sheets in their last 2 games, largely due to their dominance on the ball. The very few gaps that appeared in the United back four was due to the positioning of Antonio Valencia, who has been huffing and puffing down the United right.
The obvious reason for this is due to the tactic that Mourinho has employed for two of his most creative outlets in Mata and Mkhitaryan. Neither has a definite position in this formation.
While on paper, Manchester United line up with the 4-2-3-1 formation; they actually use a hybrid of it and the 4-3-3 to give rise to two #10’s operating in tandem behind Lukaku. When Mkhitaryan assumes the central role; Mata fills up in his position and vice versa.
What this does is leave Valencia isolated in attack down the right wing as he almost has to take up that baton all by himself.
But this tactic has paid off in terms of attack. Defenders now have two playmakers to take care off, making their work all the more tougher. Mata and Mkhitaryan’s interchangeability has worked wonders so far. This tactical master class shows Mourinho’s ability to get the very best out of his squad and it remains to be seen if he continues with the same through the rest of the season.