Manchester United fans shouldn’t ever rise to the bait laid down to them from rival fans when they downplay the ability that Paul Pogba possesses. In reality, the French midfielder is a world-class talent and those who watch him week in, week out, understand his importance to United’s system under Jose Mourinho. There is a reason why there was a small silence amongst Old Trafford last night in the 19th minute, when Pogba seemed to clutch his hamstring and pull up, before being substituted for Marouane Fellaini.
Jose Mourinho and fans will no doubt be sweating over the length of Pogba’s layoff, with the hope that it will only be a couple of weeks until he is back on the field. In the mean time however, there is a huge creativity void in United’s lineup, as not many players in the squad quite possess the same spark or tenacity as Pogba. Below we have evaluated the three contenders that may fill step in during Pogba’s absence.
Marouane Fellaini – Likelihood 9/10
The most realistic option will of course be Jose’s go to guy himself, Marouane Fellaini. Whilst the big Belgian may still split some fan’s opinions, there is no denying that he has played some of his best football in a United shirt, under Jose Mourinho. Despite not always being a starter, Fellaini is undoubtedly an effective tool to have in the squad and has been efficiently utilised under Mourinho, particularly in the more edgy and intense fixtures.
As we saw last night, through United’s opening goal in the 3-0 victory over Basel, Fellaini is most effective in the final third of the pitch, causing havoc and panic in and around the opposition’s penalty box. This is where Fellaini needs to be deployed when on the field, as he becomes less and less effective the deeper he plays in the midfield. The Belgian is certainly not a deep laying playmaker and as mentioned, if he is selected, then he does need a license to get forward and push the opposition’s midfield and defence line back.
This is where Nemajana Matic certainly earns his pay cheque for the week, as the Serbian midfielder certainly offers defensive assurance to all those who enjoy to roam around in front of him. The positioning of Matic always allows a more fluid structure to the team in the final third and could therefore compliment Fellaini well, who will be allowed to stay further up the field and thus pin Everton’s midfielders back near their own penalty area.
Ander Herrera – Likelihood 7/10
Despite having been arguably United’s best player of the season last season, it does appear as though Herrera will perform in a more pragmatic role for the Red Devils this season, particularly with Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s electric start to the campaign. However, similar to Fellaini himself, Herrera is certainly a trusted and reliable member of Mourinho’s squad and will always follow his manager’s instructions directly to a tee, when he is selected.
Should the Spaniard start alongside Matic this Sunday, United will undoubtedly be holding a very strong security blanket across the centre of the field, as both midfielders simply excel in their defensive duties. Having two sitting midfielder’s in the team may be a tempting proposition for Jose, particularly against an Everton side that will set up to counter. The inclusion of Herrera in the side does however again grant the attacking four to roam around and play in a more expressive manner, as similar to Matic, he always covers the space in behind their runs.
Michael Carrick – Likelihood 5/10
A name that many fans may have forgotten about is of course the club’s skipper, Micheal Carrick. The English veteran is yet to feature for the side this season and at the age of 36, we can presumably expect to see perform in a more rotational basis this season. Similar to Herrera, Carrick would sit in deep alongside Matic and again offer some defensive security to United’s attackers upfront.
Although the role appears similar to Herrera, one may not expect Carrick to feature when Matic is in the side, as both players enjoy taking up the central zone in front of United’s defensive line. With the two not possessing that zest of pace or quick movement, the two midfielders may not compliment each other too well and thus it would be easy for Everton to press across the lines and cut off their passing options.
With Matic being arguably one of the first names on the team-sheet at present, perhaps we may have to wait until the Serbian is given a rest, before seeing Carrick in action this season.