There may have been only two instances thus far, but Manchester United’s two biggest talents – Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba – are yet to play well together in the same starting XI. However, we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised; especially under a manager who prides himself on balanced and formulaic football, it was never going to be as straightforward as simply attaching Sanchez onto the left-hand side of the Red Devils’ usual game-plan.
Indeed, fitting any Premier League team together with the right balance is always something of a puzzle, but even more so when they have the talent United boast in attack through the likes of Sanchez, Pogba, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jese Lingard. Jose Mourinho’s proposed solution is to play the powerful Frenchman deeper in midfield, but that has lead to another debate in itself of whether Pogba has the discipline for that role and more crucially, whether the holding slot alongside Nemanja Matic truly showcases his dynamic and creative qualities.
The early signs suggest its a flawed idea; tellingly, Pogba has been subbed off midway through the second half during his last two Premier League appearances, while Sanchez has only shown his revered quality in small doses. So we’re proposing three alternative setups – courtesy of lineupbuilder – to get the best out of Pogba and Sanchez, and then giving United fans the chance to have their say on the biggest conundrum currently facing Mourinho.
The simplest and most obvious solution – move Pogba further forward into the attacking midfield berth. It would have no effect on Sanchez’s current role in the side, maintain Mourinho’s preferred formation and push Pogba into a position that gives him the freedom to roam and link up with Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku in more advanced areas of the pitch. Ander Herrera is more than capable of doing a study job alongside Matic and is probably a better candidate than Pogba anyway for taking the ball off the centre-halves and spreading the play.
If there’s one lingering concern, however, it’s that Pogba and Sanchez could end up getting in each other’s way. Pogba likes to surge forward into the left channel, but that’s also the space Sanchez looks to cut into when he’s playing on the left wing.
Unquestionably Pogba’s preferred solution, because it would put him in the role that has produced the best form throughout his career – the left-sided slot in a midfield three. That’s the position he took up in Juventus’ midfield diamond, providing the performances that made him a world-record signing, and the one many expected him to be handed upon returning to Old Trafford.
It’s also a system Mourinho knows inside out, having used it famously during his first spell with Chelsea and at Inter Milan, and seems to put everybody in the right places with Matic anchoring, Herrera partnering Pogba just in front and Sanchez and Martial coming inside from the respective flanks.
However, the concern over Sanchez and Pogba looking to occupy the same space once again persists, and that role still requires some discipline on the France international’s part – he can’t simply bomb forward at every given opportunity. The other question, too, is whether Lukaku holds up the ball well enough. He’ll have less support than in a 4-2-3-1 and although the Belgian has improved on that aspect of his game this season, he’s still not an effective target man of the Didier Drogba calibre.
United toyed with three at the back earlier this season and they certainly have the wide players for it, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young perfect for the wing-back roles. Nemanja Matic won the Premier League title playing in the exact same setup last season at Chelsea too and will understand what he needs to bring to the midfield, while Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo both have the speed and experience at full-back to snuff out one-on-one situations either side of Chris Smalling.
More importantly though, it would completely take the leash off Pogba, making him part of the attack instead of the midfield and putting him in incredibly close proximity with Sanchez and Lukaku to finish off what would be a formidable, powerful and potent forward triplet.
However, Pogba would be starting in the space he likes to explode into, so it remains to be seen if he can have the same kind of impact, not to mention if he can deliver the level of goals and assists expected of players who take up that position – think Eden Hazard and Pedro at Chelsea, or Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal last season.
Nonetheless, 3-4-3 remains a tempting concept and would certainly fit the tactical direction the Premier League appears to be heading in at the moment.
So, Man United fans, which formation would you choose to get the best out of Pobga and Sanchez? Let us know by voting below…