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Tactics: How would Manchester United play under Antonio Conte or Zinedine Zidane?

Manchester United
(Image credit: PA)

While Manchester United appear to be giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer time to save his job, the rumour mill continues to swirl. Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane are two big name managers consistently linked with the Norwegian's job, and it would be unsurprising if one of them were to take charge at Old Trafford in the coming months. 

But, while both hugely successful, the pair play contrasting styles of football, with different ideas about tactics and how to manage the dressing room. Here, we take a look at how Manchester United might set up under each gaffer. 

Antonio Conte

Manchester United

(Image credit: Getty)

The fiery Italian is known as a disciplinarian who demands total conformity from his players. He tends to set his sides up in a 3-4-3 formation, or a variation of the tactic. This was the strategy he adopted at Chelsea, where he led a hardworking team to a league title and FA Cup during his three-year spell.

After taking over at Inter in 2018, Conte adapted his favoured formation slightly. Instead of playing with three strikers, he played a 3-4-1-2, with a no.10 drifting between the lines behind Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. His chosen strike partnership had a good blend of pace and industry. 

At Manchester United, the latter tactic could be used to give Bruno Fernandes license to get forward as often as possible. Ahead of him, Cavani and Rashford could provide a good blend of workrate, pace and power. 

It is unlikely, given Conte's pressing demands, Ronaldo would manage to hold down a place in the team. Conte is known for his confrontational side and it is easy to imagine the Portuguese (and possibly Paul Pogba) falling out with the manager. Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho would have his chances limited, unless he could be transformed into a wingback, which seems doubtful. 

Zinedine Zidane

Manchester United

(Image credit: Future)

The Frenchman has a far softer, and more flexible approach to management. A former Galactico himself, Zidane understands the importance of managing a dressing room full of big egos.

His most commonly used formation during a trophy-laden spell at Real was a narrow 4-3-3 – which he used in all three Champions League final victories between 2016 and 2018 – without wingers. Ronaldo was carefully rotated towards the end of his time in the Spanish capital, but always started the big games. Zidane's successful management of the Portuguese could be a big advantage when it comes to appointing a new Red Devils boss. 

Ronaldo and Cavani, with Fernandes in support, is a similar (in style at least) trio to the one which started Real Madrid's 2018 Champions League final victory: Ronaldo, Benzema and Isco. Donny van de Beek almost joined Real during Zidane's tenure so it's easy to imagine the Dutchman being given a fresh start at Old Trafford. Luke Shaw could provide width down the left flank – in conjunction with Pogba – but Aaron Wan Bissaka isn't good enough going forwards and would need to be replaced. Meanwhile, Rashford, Sancho, Martial and Greenwood would have to remain patient for opportunities in attack. 

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Ed McCambridge

Ed McCambridge is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working for the magazine and website. Ed has been living in Berlin since 2015 and worked as a Bundesliga reporter before joining FFT. Formerly a season ticket holder at AFC Wimbledon, he's now most commonly spotted at local side Union Berlin.