Football has just returned after almost two months of an abrupt break due to the coronavirus, with encouraging talks that the Premier League will return too, with many English clubs resuming training.
This news has brought great joy for Manchester United fans in particular, as they are excited about the prospect of seeing two of their most talented and brightest players, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba playing together for the first time.
Pogba has been out of action for over six months with an ankle injury with his 2019/20 campaign looking all but over. Due to the hiatus of football tough, the Frenchman can now play the final few games in the Premier League, alongside his new midfield partner.
But the million dollar question remains, how will Manchester United accommodate both the maestros in the same team?
This is an issue that arises largely out of the similar playing styles of the two midfielders and their shared affinity for the attacking midfield role. Here’s how The Red Devils can play with both Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in their midfield.
Classic 4-2-3-1: Pogba deep and Bruno attacking
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has always favoured the 4-2-3-1 formation, as it is a system that has brought defensive stability, but also powerful offensive capability. Here, Pogba will be touted to perform his usual role alongside either Fred or Scott McTominay, while Fernandes will be given reign to roam free as an attacking midfielder – the same position he has been playing regularly since his arrival.
This set up will allow the Portuguese international to play closer to the attacking three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James – given that Fernandes has succeeded in ranking first in final-third passes in every appearance so far for United.
As for the Frenchman, he will be able to dictate the play from deep with his stellar passing and dribbling skills. Pogba has been given a free pass to attack and get forward under Solskjaer which he enjoyed last season, bagging five goals and six assists.
McTominay or Fred would be tasked with holding the midfield, staying back and allowing the dyanmic duo to press forward – their security blanket would help prevent the side being hurt on the counter.
4-3-3: Attack, Attack, Attack
Manchester United could do well with a 4-3-3 formation, with two highly talented midfielders alongside each other and they needn’t look far for an example. Just across Manchester, at the Etihad Stadium, it’s a system that helped win City the Premier League title last season – David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne playing side-by-side as twin No. 8s.
Fernandes here would move wide and deliver crosses into the box, similar to De Bruyne’s role for the Blues. Interestingly, the Portuguese international has managed more passes in the box in the league (44), than the Belgian (41), since joining the Red Devils.
Both Rashford and James like to play out wide providing electrifying pace and width, which would push opposition defences back and open up spaces in the midfield, allowing both Bruno and Pogba to play side-by-side.This could prove deadly, considering both player’s passing ability and their deadly shooting, meaning defenders would have to close out on both, without opening up the passing lanes behind them for their fellow attackers.
But for this midfield to work, Solskjaer’s best bet would be to play McTominay or Nemanja Matic in a defensive midfield role. This may seem harsh on Fred, who has enjoyed a fine season, but to start him behind Pogba and Fernandes would leave the midfield desperately short of defensive nous.
Solskjaer will have to scrap his beloved 4-2-3-1 in order to put the 2018 World Cup Winner back into the midfield, meaning there will only be a single pivot.
3-5-2: The Big Game Formation
United have regularly used this formation against the ‘big’ teams this season, as it provides a solid defensive setup, covering the whole back line and cutting off the opponent’s wide player’s.
While Rashford and Martial take the roles of left and right strikers respectively, with Brandon Williams and Wan-Bissaka providing width as they take roles of left and right wing-backs. Luke Shaw would be playing as the left centre-back, a role he has recently taken well too. Fernandes and Pogba would start side-by-side on paper, but when attacking, the former takes up the role of either a winger or an attacking midfielder, getting into positions of his desire hurting the opposition from all angles.
Pogba would be a new addition to this formation considering he hasn’t played most of the season, with the Frenchman playing as one of the midfield three – just as he did at Juventus, he would have license to drive forward into space.
With The Red Devils sitting deep, absorbing pressure and counter-attacking the big teams, Pogba‘s ability to explode from deep with the ball at his feet would take the side’s counter-attacking abilities to new heights.
Again, McTominay would suit this formation well, considering both his midfield partners will be attacking most of the time – with his presence protecting the back line. The deadly duo of Pogba and Bruno would work wonders in this formation, and they without a doubt will be nightmare for the opposition defence all match.
4-4-2 Diamond: Pogba and Fred pivot, Bruno up front
This formation is a personal favourite, and while it may not be the one Solskjaer would go for, it’s surely one worth considering. Here, both Fred and McTominay who are in great form would play, meaning there will be no sacrifices made for accommodating Pogba and Bruno.
This formation will give Fernandes the most freedom to move about and complement the attack with Pogba and Fred proving a threat through an alternating midfield pivot. This midfield would leave Pogba and Bruno with very minimal defensive duties, as an extra midfielder will counter the threat of losing possession. The involvement of Fred would be key, as the Brazilian has the best ball recoveries (315) of any Man United midfielder in the Premier League this season.
However, not having wingers here would mean very less threat from wide flanks and very minimal width to the attack. But United could always improvise in this formation if things aren’t going according to the plan – Solskjaer could move both strikers Rashford and Martial to a wider role and use Fernandes as a free false-9. This would mean Bruno would get more shots on target from close range, while Rashford and Martial would have roles to make runs in behind defences, with Pogba feeding them balls.
To conclude, this will be a tricky nut for Solskjaer to crack but one that could spell ample success for Manchester United. Even though there is still some doubt regarding Pogba’s future, for the time he is at Old Trafford, his integration is pivotal given the skillset and mentality he brings to the pitch.