Manchester United might finally have the perfect formation for Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes – Tyrone Marshall

Bruno Fernandes celebrated two years as a Manchester United player last weekend, but at Old Trafford tonight he could still experience another first: partnering Paul Pogba in a 4-3-3.

Ever since Fernandes’ immediately announced himself as the answer to United’s lack of creativity, the dilemma as to how to get them both he and Pogba the same team in positions where they can influence the game has been as a source of debate.

There have been two brief spells when Fernandes and Pogba have co-existed successfully.

The first, at the start of Project Restart, had Pogba alongside Nemanja Matic in a 4-2-3-1 and the second, just over a year ago, came with Pogba moved to the left of the front three.

Both were floating successes. Those heady summer days of June and July 2020 quickly dissipated early in the following season, when the Pogba-Matic axis was carved open by good teams. The World Cup winner was effective from the left in the winter of 2020/21, but that was only ever a short-term solution.

Fernandes’ performances since his move from Sporting Lisbon have marked him out as United’s main man in midfield, with Pogba having to take a backseat. He was never a natural fit as one of the double pivots in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 — structural issues always bubbled under the surface.

Solskjaer began this season wanting to move United into a 4-3-3, but he never felt emboldened to actually make the change. Over the last three games Rangnick has grasped the nettle and United have looked better for it, with Scott McTominay as the holding midfielder.

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Pogba has been out injured since November 2 but he’s back in training for a while now and should be fit enough to return from the start against Middlesbrough tonight. With Fred having represented Brazil in South America this week and Jesse Lingard declaring himself unavailable, Pogba is likely to start alongside Fernandes as two No.8s.

After 212 appearances it does feel like this is the final act of Pogba’s United career. He still hasn’t signed a new contract and while club officials are keen for him to wait until a new manager is appointed before finalizing a decision over his future, it’s rare for a player of this stature to enter the final six months of his contract and still agree an extension.

There have been bursts of brilliance since his £89million return in 2016, but never the consistency to declare Pogba an unqualified success. There certainly hasn’t been the silverware or collective progress to mark the signing as a good one.

But there will be frustration that it has taken until now to play a system that may yet bring out the best in Pogba. The World Cup winner deserves some criticism for his failure to adapt to United’s needs and be the beacon they needed during difficult times, but he’s never had the kind of system in place that has helped him thrive for France on a regular basis.

The 4-3-3 could yet provide it and there’s no doubt having Pogba and Fernandes playing closer to the opposition’s goal should benefit United in the final third. Goals haven’t been easy to come by under Rangnick, so any extra creativity or goal threat is vital.

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Unfortunately, having waited two years to see this system, fans might only get a glimpse of it. Pogba has to oust Fred in Rangnick’s best side, first of all, to see it on a more consistent basis and that won’t be easy to do — especially with the Brazilian having the edge in terms of pressing and defensive work-rate.

But Rangnick will hope his remarks about Pogba’s motivation to impress between now and the end of the season — either for himself, for United or for a potential new club — bring out the best in him. This system might help achieve that and tonight could be a chance to glimpse a midfield many United fans wanted to see a long time ago.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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