Paul Pogba has returned to first-team training at Manchester United after spending around two months on the treatment table with an injury. He will become an option for Ralf Rangnick in the coming days, and the German has already moved to praise the ability of the Frenchman.
Speaking after witnessing the 28-year-old’s return behind the scenes, Rangnick said: “What you can see from the very first day in training yesterday is that he’s present, physically and mentally. What I saw in training was very promising for the future.”
Rangnick hasn’t yet settled upon a fixed system at United since taking charge, but Pogba could influence his plans at Old Trafford- moving forward. His presence opens up a number of different tactical options for the United boss to explore between now and the end of the campaign.
4-2-2-2 has been Rangnick’s most used formation so far. The German seems to have moved away from the system recently after a run of poor results but if he wants to restore it, Pogba could realistically be deployed in one of two roles.
First, he could prosper as United’s left-sided no.10 between the team’s two central midfielders and two strikers, as he’s shown to be comfortable when operating in those spaces when afforded a degree of creative freedom.
He could also be fielded as a central midfielder within the confines of 4-2-2-2. It is reasonable to suggest that he’s not particularly defensive-minded which could be problematic, but he’s capable of offering progression up the field with his passing range unlike some of his teammates.
Another option for Rangnick could be 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. The Reds’ boss has used a diamond on occasion throughout his career, including against Aston Villa in the team’s recent FA Cup triumph.
“When we changed to a diamond in midfield, we had more control,” he said after the contest, which could be an underlying reason behind a permanent switch considering how the system occupies the centre of the park with four players compared to United’s typical pairing.
Pogba could play on the left side of a diamond as a box-to-box type, or further forward at the tip of the diamond as the team’s no.10, although Bruno Fernandes would be most likely to assume that role.
United have moved towards a 4-3-3 formation of late rather than 4-2-2-2, with Rangnick confirming the switch around his clash with Steven Gerrard’s Villa outfit. “We have now decided to play a 4-3-3 like we did against Aston Villa,” he said, “with one holding six, two eights and three offensive players.”
The Reds have fielded two central midfielders for years under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Jose Mourinho but based on the team’s frequent struggles for control, perhaps a trio in the middle could help to resolve their troubles.
Pogba could play as the team’s left-sided no.8s in a 4-3-3, while also potentially playing on the left of the attack. He thrived as part of a midfield trio while at Juventus but since he arrived in England, United have persisted with systems that incorporate a midfield two.
A final formation that seems to be a realistic option for Rangnick is 4-2-3-1, although that system has been tried and tested at Old Trafford for years and it hasn’t delivered the required performances or results over a consistent period of time.
Pogba has played in a number of different positions within the confines of 4-2-3-1 including central midfield and as a forward on both flanks. Solskjaer in particular seemed to maximise his influence as a forward on the left, allowing him to contribute in offensive areas rather than balancing his role with defensive duties.
However, with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford vying for starting roles, Pogba would have plenty of competition.