Manchester United are edging closer to a return to Premier League action and their training is starting to hit full throttle.
The updates from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s camp have been very promising, with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford among those to have returned to full fitness ready for the resumption of the league campaign.
Odion Ighalo, after committing himself to United until January on a loan extension, said earlier this week that the squad is looking strong and name-checked Pogba in particular as a player hitting his stride. The Frenchman has missed much of the season due to ankle issues, but Solskjaer’s latest task is to re-integrate him into the team.
As always, there will be debate about Pogba’s best position.
So where should United accommodate him in their side? MEN Sport runs through the four options…
In a two-man midfield
Solskjaer’s favoured formation, at least for the games United have been expected to win this season, is a 4-2-3-1.
He signed Bruno Fernandes to play the pivot role behind the striker, while Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic used in deeper roles. Even before Fernandes’ arrival, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard alternated in the No.10 role with Juan Mata filling in too.
At the start of the campaign, Pogba played alongside McTominay in the two-man central midfield and this looks a good bet to be his role again. Fernandes’ form was excellent in February and March after he arrived from Sporting Lisbon in January, so Pogba could line up behind him.
Left of a three
It has often been said that Pogba can only truly thrive when on the left-hand side of a midfield trio. That was the role he played for Juventus for three years, a spell which saw the United academy graduate recognised in the world-class bracket.
Jose Mourinho occasionally used Pogba in this role for United, but it wasn’t until Solskjaer arrived in December 2018 that Old Trafford started to see the best of the midfielder. That period between December and March last season was arguably the best of Pogba’s career and it came with him on the left of midfield in a 4-3-3.
Whether Solskjaer will see fit to revert to that system when the Premier League returns remains to be seen. It may mean Fernandes playing in a less familiar position.
While some have doubted Pogba’s defensive contributions to midfield, his ability to pick a pass and create chances cannot be questioned.
For that reason, many see the 27-year-old as an ideal No.10. He can lay on assists to teammates, go past defenders with skill and he’s a good finisher too.
Again, Solskjaer will probably consider Fernandes as the better option if he’s only picking one attacking midfield playmaker in a 4-2-3-1. It would be a bold move for United to play 4-1-4-1 with two No.10s, but it might just be the formation that gets the best from both Pogba and Fernandes.
Some United fans would consider this heresy, given Pogba’s undoubted ability. But it may transpire that Solskjaer has a much more balanced side without Pogba as a starter. Fred and Matic or McTominay behind Fernandes was working like a dream before the break.
There’s also the small matter of the fact Pogba hasn’t started for United since September 30th and may take time to regain full match fitness. He was a decent impact substitute against both Newcastle and Watford over the festive period and may have to settle for a similar role in the first few games of the resumed league this summer.
One way or another, though, you cannot imagine Pogba being content with a peripheral role for very long.