Paul Pogba’s return from injury appears to be imminent but it’s set to present Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a headache.
The Frenchman hasn’t appeared in United colours since Boxing Day when
he replaced the injured Scott McTominay at half-time against Newcastle
He then went off to have ankle surgery and has been on a steady rehabilitation ever since, with Solskjaer’s United finally discovering some rhythm and results in his absence.
Solskjaer confirmed last Wednesday that Pogba will return to training
this week — before the coronavirus put a stop to it — and it’s a matter
of time before he’s available for selection again.
that but, as Sportsmail revealed on Wednesday, Pogba is now prepared to
commit his future to United by signing a new and improved contract at
That won’t necessarily go down too well with a
large swath of United fans who had been working on the assumption Pogba
would be leaving in the summer.
In his absence, Solskjaer
seems to have figured out his best midfield, with Fred and Scott
McTominay anchoring things and new signing Bruno Fernandes providing
spark further forward.
But he could soon face the dilemma of
trying to shoehorn Pogba back into his midfield while not upsetting
those who have been performing well in recent weeks.
So is there a way of reintegrating Pogba? We take a look at a few of Solskjaer’s tactical options.
THE CONVENTIONAL 4-2-3-1
favours the 4-2-3-1 formation more often than not with the shape
offering the insurance policy of two deep-lying midfielders to shield
the defence plus a trio of attacking options.
instance, Pogba would likely have to slot in alongside Scott McTominay
in the midfield two, with Fernandes in the No 10 role ahead of them.
Pogba is always going to want to push forward whenever the opportunity presents itself, picking up the ball in the transition and driving forward through the middle.
That would undoubtedly place a burden on McTominay, who could be left
alone to protect the back four against quick, counter-attacking
opponents if Pogba is too far forward.
The positive aspect
is that United could field a very speedy and exciting attack featuring
Fernandes flanked by Anthony Martial, Daniel James or Mason Greenwood,
with Pogba offering support.
But another negative is that
either McTominay or Fred would be squeezed out of the side to make way
for Pogba, something that appears incredibly harsh given they’ve both
done well for United of late.
Possible United line-up (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Pogba, McTominay; Lingard, Fernandes, James; Martial
AN ATTACK-MINDED 4-3-3
Solskjaer very rarely goes for the
4-3-3 system as it has the tendency to leave United looking unbalanced,
either by playing two more defensive midfield players or two
It’s often said that Pogba’s best
position is as the left-sided player in a midfield three but he’s not
often been deployed there for United so the theory has pretty much been
He could go there with Fernandes as his counterpoint on the right and either Fred or McTominay doing the defensive donkey work in the middle.
You’d then have a forward three featuring the pace of Martial and James on the flanks and a finisher like Odion Ighalo up top.
it isn’t hard to pick flaws in this system. For one thing, Fernandes is
out of his best position, required to drift to the right side as
opposed to threading passes from a No 10 role.
that both Pogba and Fernandes will instinctively want to push forward,
which one of them takes one for the team by tracking back to help the
This one seems to be the fastest route to a clash of personalities between Pogba and Fernandes.
Possible United line-up (4-3-3): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Fernandes, Fred/McTominay, Pogba; James, Ighalo, Martial
A MIDFIELD DIAMOND
We occasionally see this shape from
Solskjaer’s United, basically a back four with a midfield diamond and
then two forwards in a 4-1-2-1-2.
The good news is that this one avoids a diplomatic incident because nobody has to drop out of the side.
have McTominay at the bottom tip of the ‘diamond’ with Fred on the
right and Pogba on the left. Fernandes would then by at the top in
support of Martial and James or Martial and Ighalo.
It would be Fred’s role predominantly to drop back and assist McTominay in mopping up when the opposition have the ball, while they’d be plenty of options to move the ball out of defence.
Harry Maguire is adept at carrying the ball out from the back and he
would theoretically look up and have Pogba, McTominay and Fred all
available for the pass to get United moving.
It also comes
with the advantage of allowing Fernandes to concentrate on what he does
best without having to think about tracking back.
downside is that it leaves United lacking a bit of width further forward
though an overlapping full-back like Luke Shaw or Aaron Wan-Bissaka
All things considered, this could well be the easiest option for Solskjaer to go for.
Possible United line-up (4-1-2-1-2): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay; Fred, Pogba; Fernandes; James, Martial
SOLSKJAER’S TRUSTY 3-4-2-1
For the bigger games, Solskjaer
isn’t afraid to send his team out in a 3-4-2-1 system and it often pays
dividends, such as in the recent wins over Chelsea and Manchester City.
offers the stability of three centre halves and plays to the strengths
of wing backs Wan-Bissaka on the right and either Luke Shaw or Brandon
Williams on the left.
It could also potentially offer Solskjaer another way of getting Pogba and Fernandes on the field at the same time.
If he played Fred and McTominay alongside each other in the holding midfield position, Pogba and Fernandes could be the two in behind the centre forward.
In such an advanced position, both could indulge their instincts to
push forward and there wouldn’t be any pressure for either of them to
The onus would be on the wide players to get
forward and offer another angle of attack and it’s certainly worked well
in the past – Wan-Bissaka was excellent in the 2-0 win over City.
Solskjaer could continue with this set-up in the more important games
once Pogba returns and revert to the diamond shape in lesser fixtures.
United line-up (3-4-2-1): De Gea; Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Wan-Bissaka,
Fred, McTominay, Williams; Fernandes, Pogba; Martial