Mikael Silvestre played in the Manchester derby on many occasions during his nine year Old Trafford career. The Frenchman was sometimes deployed as a left back and sometimes as a central defender, but always as part of a back four – Sir Alex Ferguson rarely deviated from that set up during his 26-year reign at Old Trafford.
Yet current United gaffer Ole Gunnar Solskjaer bucked tradition against Spurs last weekend; the Red Devils running out 3-0 winners in north London using a back three. The Norwegian's decision appeared to add a steeliness to United which has lacked in recent seasons. For Silvestre, this was a necessary change.
"I think that was a smart move, to be honest," Silvestre, who spoke to FourFourTwo in association with MyBettingSites, said. "To consolidate, because there was clearly a lack of confidence after they conceded five against Liverpool [the weekend prior to the Tottenham win]. It would have been even more if Liverpool hadn't taken their foot off the gas. So the switch to three was a safety first approach, which was a good response.
"United playing with a back four has been the tradition for decades – I don't know how long. But you have to adapt to the situation and to players, injury issues and things like that. Nobody should take offence to a switch in formation. At some point Ole's team played three or five depending which way you are in the offensive side or defensive side of the game. But for me what is important is mastering the change of formation."
What's more, 44-year-old Silvestre sees a back three as a way to make the most of United's strengths, going forward as well as defensively, against Man City on Saturday.
"That formula worked quite well before," he told FFT ahead of the derby. "It can help to absorb the pressure because we know City like possession. So we can let them have the ball and play on the counter, you know even if they have most of the possession at some point, with the pace of Greenwood, Rashford, Cristiano, we can cause damage, so I wouldn't be surprised if Ole goes for the same back three or back five at the weekend."
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