Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is exploring using Paul Pogba as an advanced ‘number 10’ when games return later this month, which will allow the Frenchman to play in tandem with Bruno Fernandes without overbalancing the midfield.
United fans have been waiting for five months to see Pogba and Fernandes line up next to each other. Pogba was injured when the new fan favourite arrived in January, while the coronavirus lockdown in March ensured they couldn’t even train together until the start of June.
Solskjaer has been tasked with fitting both, primarily attacking focused, players in the same midfield in a way that won’t compromise the defensive structure of the team.
The first answer may have come when the squad played a ‘United vs United’ full practice match at their Carrington training ground over the weekend, with The Sun reporting that Pogba was deployed ‘just behind the central striker’.
The Frenchman actually lined up on the opposite team to Fernandes that day, but it still serves as an indicator as to how they could be utilised together. In such a system, Fernandes would operate as a deeper ‘number eight’ and take on more of a box-to-box role.
United could have developed that system further with a warm-up friendly against Stoke this week, only for the planned friendly at Carrington to be cancelled at the last minute when Potters manager Michael O’Neill learned he has tested positive for coronavirus.
The early signs in the Pogba/Fernandes relationship appear to be good, though.
It was revealed last week that the pair have been gelling well upon training together for the first time – five months after Fernandes’ initial arrival. They have very different personalities but there is said to be a shared ‘competitive streak’ that ‘makes them respect each other’.
Later speaking about the prospect of playing with Pogba, Fernandes told Mario Djuorvski during an Instagram Live chat: “I think Paul is one of the best players in Manchester and in the world.
“He was injured for a lot of time. The opportunity to play with him is fantastic because you want to play with the best players you can.”
It has even been rumoured that Pogba will consider the blossoming relationship as he weighs up his long-term future. Last week, a report suggested a positive on-field relationship will pave the way for a willingness from both Pogba and United to discuss a new contract beyond 2022.