Paul Pogba will be entering a completely different setup at Manchester United when he returns from injury.
The Frenchman has not featured for the Red Devils since Christmas, due to a prolonged ankle problem. Results have not been hampered during this time though, with the new faces from summer overcoming their ‘settling in period’ and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side producing a string of consistent performances.
One of the most obvious factors behind their recent success though has been the January signing of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international has contributed to seven goals in his opening nine games, with the playmaker’s arrival fuelling the anticipation for Pogba’s return, with fans eager to see what kind of partnership the duo can strike up.
The Frenchman can actually take optimism from Fernandes’ quick success too, as part of his blistering start has been down to Solskjaer himself. The manager’s commitment to a specific system has created a settled environment at Old Trafford, and the latter has arguably been the only signing post Sir Alex Ferguson to actually enter such a setting.
Fernandes arrived into a starting XI surrounded by players that understand their specific role, most notably with two deep sitting central midfielders behind him. The 4-2-3-1 formation has been a shape that Solskjaer has tried to mould since arriving, sussing out which players best fit his desired style of play.
Of these ‘two’ in the middle, Pogba will be expecting to occupy the position on the left-side, with Fernandes just in-front. The Frenchman will be partnered alongside one of the more defensive figures of either Scott McTominay, Fred or Nemanja Matic, formulating quite the balanced, but aggressive midfield three.
When Pogba resumes his role as the LCM, it will be in a more established system. Fernandes will be the main creative source inside the final third, popping up in the pockets and pushing the side further up the field. As the side’s playmaker, he will help relieve some of the attacking duties from the Frenchman’s shoulders, duties that have often weighed heavy on the central midfielder.
Sitting a little deeper, as Solskjaer prefers from his two central figures, Pogba will be granted a license to dictate and build attacks from deep. Despite playing just seven times in the Premier League, no player has averaged more through balls (0.7) per game this season. His distribution on the ball is certainly his biggest strength, a trait that will be used to feed Fernandes into more advanced positions.
The former Sporting Lisbon man has averaged 2.6 shots per game from open play in the division since arriving, so having a creative figure in-behind will only compliment his movement and attacking mindset in driving the team forward. Similar to his effective partnership with Paulo Dybala at Juventus, Pogba will enjoy having a figure that likes to drift in-between the lines and get on the ball – the type of player Old Trafford had longed for pre-Bruno.
Since re-joining the club back in 2017, Pogba has been expected to perform in so many positions and roles on the field. When pushing forward, he is criticised for his lack of defensive discipline, and yet, when sitting deep, his creative freedom is being ‘held back’.
Now though, for the first time in his United career, Pogba will be deployed in a system that has been created for the benefit of the whole team, rather than shoehorning him in as the central figure. He will be surrounded by teammates that have been performing exceptionally well since the turn of the new year, including an extra top-quality partnerr that is on his own level in terms of technical ability.