The postponement of the football season until at least April 4th presents Manchester United with the opportunity to get Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford back to full fitness and able to play a major part in the rest of the season.
But with everyone fit, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a couple of problems to solve – who drops down to allow his two stars back, and what formation could he play to accommodate everyone?
Solskjaer will probably want to play his strongest eleven players, rather than bench world class players so as not to disrupt the formation. On paper, his strongest eleven is: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Bailly (or Lindelof), Maguire, Shaw, Fred, Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford, Martial plus one other, with McTominay, Matic, Williams and James among the contenders.
The problem with the current 4-2-3-1 formation would be who to play on the right wing.
Assuming Fred and either McTominay or Matic occupy the back two midfield positions, the boss would then be left with Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford and Martial to make up the front four. Of these, the most obvious candidate to move out to the right would be Marcus Rashford, who is the only one of the four with either the natural attributes or experience to play in that position.
However, this would push Pogba further out to the left of midfield than would be ideal, so it does look somewhat imbalanced.
Another option would be to switch to a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Martial and Rashford up top, Pogba and Fernandes behind and Fred and Matic or McTominay behind them. However, the question in this instance is where the width would come from. The two front men would need to make a lot of wide runs and Pogba and Fernandes would be expected to get into the box more to get on the end of their crosses. Bruno is excellent in that role but it would be unfamiliar to Pogba.
The system would also require the full backs to get forward a lot, potentially sacrificing some security at the back. So it is a formation that might be employed in easier games but is unlikely to be used against tougher sides.
The third option would be to use the 3-5-2 system that Solskjaer has been leaning on more and more of late. This would make the 11th member of the team Brandon Williams, with Shaw moving into the left centre back role, or Shaw would move out to left wing back and there would be a back three of Maguire, Bailly and Lindelof.
This formation probably looks the most balanced of the three but would mean that two of the Matic – McTominay – Fred triad would be left on the bench.
As problems go, it is a luxurious one for the manager to have, but he will need to make sure that the Red Devils’ excellent team spirit and form are not disrupted by the return of his two prize assets.
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