Football Features

Four ways Man Utd’s first-choice XI could look by the end of 2019

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:49, 29 March 2019

Ole’s at the wheel and now Manchester United need to get some quality onto the team bus!

Manchester United have secured their managerial post for next season with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s excellent run as caretaker boss convincing the Old Trafford brass that he’s the man for the job full-time. With Solskjaer, Mike Phelan, Kieran McKenna and Michael Carrick guiding the side, United have really turned things around.

But there’s still much work to be done. Defeats against PSG and Wolves have shown up the weaknesses of the squad whilst even some of the wins have had an air of fortune about them. As good as United have been, there’s no doubt that there is massive room for improvement and a large part of that is going to revolve around the transfer market.

As always United have been linked with a whole host of players to sign this summer, with most reports indicating that United will have up to four signings this summer, with money no object! With that in mind, just how could those new signings and the form of current players effect United’s possible line-ups at the end of the year? We’ve had a look!

The Dream

When you dream, dream big. Manchester United are looking to bring in four players this summer? Well then those four must be a right-back, a right-winger, a centre-back and a defensive midfielder. There are other positions that could use back-ups but United need world-class (or future world-class) options in those positions and they need them yesterday.

So here’s the dream scenario: firstly they keep David De Gea and Paul Pogba amid interest from European giants. Then Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw retain their places in defence but added to them are Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace, a 21-year-old English full-back with athletic and technical skills off the charts. Only seven players have dribbled by him all season! Seven! And he plays for Palace!

Wan-Bissaka would replace Ashley Young and be United’s right-back for the next decade. And at the heart of defence would be the man-mountain that is Kalidou Koulibaly. Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti recently said he was untransferrable, but this is the dream scenario and frankly at Napoli everyone has their price. This would have to be a world-record fee for a centre-back but Koulibaly is worth it. He’s only one the best in the world and every inch the dominant defensive organiser and leader United are crying out for.

In midfield Paul Pogba obviously retains his spot and as we’re dreaming here, Fred finally finds his confidence and starts to play with the quality we know he has. But at the base of midfield is United’s third signing: Ivan Rakitic. Rumoured to be on the market this summer, Rakitic is a world-class midfielder whose style just doesn’t mesh perfectly with Barcelona’s. It suits United down to a T, however. He can defend diligently and split defences open with his passes too; not to mention crack them in from long range. He’d be a huge upgrade on the plodding Nemanja Matic and help make United’s midfield a fearsome unit again.

Up-front we’ve got Rashford and Martial in their typical positions with Lukaku around as a Plan B if the opponent is being stubborn. On the right is the final new signing (and the man who gets the no. 7 shirt of that misfit Alexis Sánchez) Jadon Sancho. The mercurial English winger who is tearing up the Bundesliga despite being just 18 years of age.

Sancho has 12 league assists this season and only Leo Messi can match him; and when you’re duking it out with the World’s Finest, you know you’ve got the sauce. Sancho been declared as not for sale by Borussia Dortmund bosses – but with United’s financial power and the lure of being a Premier League hero, could Sancho resist? Moreover, could opponents resist this United line-up?

The Realistic One

It’s always good to be realistic, especially for Manchester United in a post Sir Alex Ferguson era. So despite all the bluster and noise and hype about this summer, the warning signs are already there. Word is the Old Trafford hierarchy is so impressed with how Solskjaer has revitalised defence that they no long consider centre-back a priority. And they only really want to sign a midfielder if Ander Herrera leaves.

So, more realistically, United keep playing 4-3-3 as they are now but the only additions they make are on the right flank. Wan-Bissaka still comes in, that move is a total no-brainer. And then in right-wing it’s not Sancho but Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi who comes to Old Trafford. The English teenager is desperate to leave Chelsea and doesn’t quite have the profile of the Dortmund man so wouldn’t cost as much. This team would be more formidable than United currently are but would still get exposed by the elite.

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The Diamond

There have been many games this season where Manchester United have played a diamond formation to fantastic success, so what if that became their default system? After all neither of their wing targets will be easy to sign and besides them no one else in the squad is a natural wide-man, sow why not commit to the diamond?

Koulibaly is an absurd dream but Samuel Umtiti may be slightly more attainable. The world-class World Cup winner may be available at Barcelona this summer as the Blaugrana look to try and lower their wage bill and make room for Matthijs de Ligt. United should pounce on this to sign Umtiti and make him the centrepiece of their defensive unit, with Wan-Bissaka at right-back obviously.

Herrera re-signs and sits at the base of midfield where his passing and movement make him so much more dangerous than Nemanja Matic. Ahead of him are Pogba and Fred doing Pogba and Fred things, and then at the head of the diamond goes the other new signing: Coutinho.

On the outs at Barcelona because he’s a high-usage playmaker who operates at no. 10 in a team that already has the world’s greatest high-usage playmaker operating at no. 10; he’d fit in much better in a United diamond where Paul Pogba needs another creative force to help lighten his load so that he dwells on the ball less and makes goalscoring runs more.

Coutinho would have the freedom of the pitch here with Rashford and Lukaku ahead of him, and would probably be a huge success. Moreover the move would really wind up Liverpool fans, which is an added bonus for The Red Devils of course.

Four-Four-Two (aka Pogbout)

It’s not been said so far, but here we go: Paul Pogba might leave Manchester United this summer. It’s unlikely, but he did do a pretty big flirt with Real Madrid and everyone knows Zinedine Zidane is both a fan of Pogba and in need of some galacticos at the Santiago Bernabeu.

So, say Pogba leaves… then what? Well United could seize an opportunity. Pogba’s defensive negligence is his biggest weakness. He can defend when he really applies himself, but in general he’s not great at it and needs a defensive midfielder behind him. So without that problem, United can turn to that old favourite: 4-4-2.

The defence is the same as the previous shape, only in Pogba’s absence United sign Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele and West Ham’s Declan Rice. Both players are physically and technically ideal for a 4-4-2 and have the skill-set to do it all. Flanked by Anthony Martial and Callum Hudson-Odoi, United would have a furiously dynamic midfield.

Up-top we see Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku forge a terrifying partnership full of pace, power, precision finishing, flat-track bullying and big game heroics. Rashford and Lukaku compliment each other perfectly, and this system would also allow for United to bring young Mason Greenwood through and give him first-team minutes as a back-up, continuing to do things The Manchester United Way.