Manchester United have been in top form since the last week of January. And while the entire team has upped its game, a lot of the credit has to go to one man – Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international, signed from Sporting Cain in the winter window, has revitalized the Manchester United squad since his arrival.
So far, the 25-year-old has chipped in with three goals and four assists in his nine appearances for the Red Devils. For the majority of the season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were lacking that creative element in their attacking play, which the Portuguese has addressed immediately, turning the team into a dangerous unit. It is no surprise that United went on an 11-game unbeaten run prior to the season getting suspended.
Fernandes’ arrival has also spurred his teammates to do better. Fred has played some of his finest football in the Manchester United colours during this streak, while an ageing Nemanja Matic seems to have found second wind in his career as well. Not to mention Scott McTominay, who has steadily grown into a key player at the club over the past year.
And with Paul Pogba fit and ready to return to action when the season resumes, suddenly the Manchester United midfield, that had been a problem for Solskjaer, looks like a world-class unit.
Pogba has been linked with an exit from Old Trafford for quite some time now, but Spanish football expert Guillem Balague revealed earlier this week that the Frenchman is unlikely to leave in the summer and could even pen a new contract with Manchester United.
Pogba has had his low moments since returning to United in 2016. However, there is no denying the quality that the 27-year-old possesses. And the prospect of seeing him pair up with equally briliant Bruno Fernandes is a mouth-watering one for the fans.
Having said that, here we look how Manchester United could possibly line up with both Pogba and Fernandes in the starting XI;
Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1
The Norwegian, since taking over, has mostly stuck to a 4-2-3-1 formation at Manchester United.
With the back four of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw looking like a robust, solid defensive unit, Manchester United could afford to play with a double pivot of Paul Pogba and Fred, without the more defensive-minded Matic or McTominay.
Fred, this season, has shown that he can do the dirty work in the middle, while Pogba is more than capable of pulling the strings from deep midfield areas. This would give Fernandes the license to push forward and make things tick in the final third.
With the pacey Daniel James and Marcus Rashford out wide, such a formation, with Pogba/Fernandes picking the wide-runners with passes, could cause devastation in the opposition half.
Probable Lineup: de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly/Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, Pogba; James, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
The midfield diamond – 4-1-2-1-2
Solskjaer has often opted to use such a system, especially in the latter parts of the last season, and could once again revert to it, in order to accommodate Pogba and Fernandes into the starting XI.
The back-four with David de Gea will remain as is, while either of Matic or McTominay would sit the deepest and anchor the midfield. Pogba will occupy the left side of the central midfield, while Fred slots in on the right. The Portuguese will retain his spot as the No. 10 at the tip of the diamond formation.
This is a position in which Pogba thrived during his time at Juventus. With defensive duties likely to be shared between McTominay and Fred, the Frenchman will have the license to push forward at will, drift out to the left side and pull opponents out of their positions, creating gaps for teammates.
Such a system would mean United might not be as threatening from the wings as they have been and the onus will be on the full-backs to provide the natural width going forward.
Probable Lineup: de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly/Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Matic/McTominay; Fred, Pogba; Fernandes; Rashford, Martial
The three-man defence
Solskjaer has shown he is not afraid to change formations/tactics during his time at Manchester United and a three-man backline has come in very handy for him, especially in the big games.
David de Gea continues in goal, while Luke Shaw moves into the left-sided centre-back role, alongside Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire. Wan-Bissaka will be the right-sided wing-back, while the breakout star Brandon Williams on the opposite flank, where he has proven more than capable of holding his own.
Such a system could provide Solskjaer the flexibility to play around with different combinations in midfield and attack. One option would be to go with a central midfield partnership of Fred and McTominay, deploying both Pogba and Fernandes in the attacking midfield roles and a sole striker in either Martial or Rashford.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): de Gea; Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Fred, Williams; Fernandes, Pogba; Rashford
The other option would be to pull Pogba into a deeper role, and adding another striker up front, with Fernandes operating by himself in the hole behind the two forwards.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Pogba, Williams; Fernandes; Rashford, Martial