Since Sir Alex Ferguson splashed over £50 million on Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson from 2006 to 2007 no position has been more neglected in terms of world-class talent on the Manchester United transfer front.
However, in 2016 that changed with the arrival of Paul Pogba. The 6 ft 3 box-to-box playmaker had one of the biggest buzzes in recent memory. Yet as we head into his 6th season at Manchester United it has become clear that United must decide whether he is in their long-term midfield plans.
With the Premier League season less than a week away Manchester United have major decisions to make regarding Paul Pogba and their midfield. The gamble of playing Pogba and Bruno Fernandes together has not paid off yet it seems clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has some cards he can deal.
Whilst many pundits and opposition fans are calling for United to cut their losses and not gamble on another Pogba experiment, no offer will fetch the value of what Pogba’s ability is truly worth.
Paul Pogba has seen himself shifted out wide 4-2-3-1 or restricted in the defensive pivot in midfield. This shuffling is to accommodate the star that is Bruno Fernandes. Whilst the Fernandes-Pogba link up has produced some beautiful attacking plays, these moments are few and far between. Manchester United simply have not got the best out of the duo in their time together.
In many eyes Bruno Fernandes has come in and made Pogba expendable.
Keeping Pogba and forcing him into the team in a double pivot midfield in hopes that it will work has not produced any outstanding results.
A Europa League and League Cup win is not an acceptable success for one of the best players in the world.
Unless Manchester United can find an adequate replacement or upgrade the sale of Pogba is very much unlikely.
The Gamble is for Manchester United to double down and be somewhat innovative. Switching from the traditional 4-2-3-1 to the unconventional 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation.
Like how England was unable to accommodate Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney into the same team from 2004-2012, United need to focus on a formation change to unlock their key players. Pogba much like Gerrard has been shifted out of position to accommodate the others. Fernandes much like Lampard produces at a phenomenal rate especially when behind the main striker. Rashford struggles as the main singular forward and needs to be given the freedom to roam much like Rooney.
The rigid narrow midfield heavy formation will see Pogba be allowed to be the playmaking engine he always craved to be, whilst retaining Fernandes’ free role behind the striker. The one time Pogba was fully unleashed by Solskjaer he made the 2018-19 PFA Team of the Year and finished with an impressive 13 goals and 9 assists.
The Playmaking of Pogba and Fernandes combined with the direct running of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford will give opposition teams nightmares.
The switch in formation doesn’t just benefit Pogba, the squad depth United have is better suited to this formation. Bit part players such as Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Donny Van De Beek all seemingly fit better in this formation. Van De Beek can come in and play in either Pogba or Fernandes’ role and be much more effective than he was in his first season. Martial and Greenwood have both shown a preference to play in a strike partnership which allows them to roam and drop deep at times. With a long season ahead and contributions from these players can push United towards the League.
United may lack some of the individual goalscoring talents when it comes to goalscoring but the philosophy of United has always been goals by committee. The great teams of 1999 and 2008 had several threats across the squad. With Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford, Sancho, Martial, Greenwood, Van De Beek and Edison Cavani all capable of hitting double-figure goals for the season, finding the net shouldn’t be a problem.
The 4-3-2-1 will see United combine the approach of the 2008 Champions League winning Manchester United team and the 2007 Champions League-winning AC Milan team. That AC Milan team was the last major team to successfully deploy the 4-3-2-1.
The fluidity of United’s 08 team is something that Fernandes, Sancho and Rashford can thrive off.
Combining this with the rigidity of Milan’s 2007 midfield will give United a better platform to build off and break opposition defences down. Pogba’s partnership with Scott McTominay will blossom further. McTominay can settle into a more box-to-box role akin to AC Milan legend Massimo Ambrosini. The freedom given to Pogba in a midfield 3 will unlock United going forward and give the team more balance.
Whilst they don’t have the key Deep-lying Playmaker that both these teams had in Michael Carrick and Andrea Pirlo. The team can function with Fred in this role.
Manchester United may lack a true deep-lying playmaker to complete the system now. But with weeks left in the transfer window and transfers for Reuben Neves, Adrien Rabiot, Manuel Locatelli and Kalvin Phillips still available United can address this area. A holding midfielder who can anchor the teams shape and spread the play will push the team to an elite level capable of competing on more fronts.
Keeping Pogba and switching formations is evidently the best option for United moving forward. They can focus on getting the best out of their best players, rather than stifling stars into a system. The benefits work for the whole squad and give them something to work on and expand on in the future.