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How does Manchester United line up following the return of Cristiano Ronaldo?

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3rd September, 2021
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Manchester United already had a pretty strong team on paper this season, but following the dream addition of Cristiano Ronaldo, it is time to put your manager’s cap back on and ponder what United’s team could look like going forward.

If you thought that the Red Devils were showing signs that they were ready to challenge for the Premier League crown this season then the acquisition of Ronaldo only amplifies that confidence even more.

There are various line-ups that you could come up with given their squad depth, but I want to delve further than that and share what I believe is United’s best starting 11.

GK: David De Gea

RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

RCB: Raphaël Varane

LCB: Harry Maguire

LB: Luke Shaw

CDM: Scott McTominay

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RCM: Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

LCM: Paul Pogba

RW: Jadon Sancho

CF: Cristiano Ronaldo

LW: Marcus Rashford

Formation: 4-3-3

This formation is the best way forward for United. This specifically underlines the midfield area, which would mean for Solskjær to play one holding midfielder instead of his traditional two in his most favoured 4-2-3-1 set up. So let’s dissect the middle part of the pitch first.

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We have seen the positives that Pogba has managed to conjure up when playing higher on the pitch (albeit he was lining up on the left of a front three for the first two games), which has resulted in him registering a league-best five assists to start the 2021-22 campaign. However, when employed in a deeper position like he was in United’s most recent game against Wolves, he does not have the same sort of impact.

He and Fernandes link up fantastically well and their chemistry in the final third was on full display when Pogba played that dinked through ball for the Portuguese international to score United’s first goal of the season.

Paul Pogba Manchester United

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

United fans want to see more of that. We all know that Fernandes is given instructions to stay higher up the pitch to create chances, get his forward men involved and even run beyond them. It’s what makes him such a valuable asset in this squad.

Adopting a 4-3-3 formation would allow Pogba and Fernandes to operate together going forward and we have already seen the impact this has had in the Red Devils’ first two matches against Leeds and Southampton. While there are defensive responsibilities for midfielders, their duties can be helped with a defensive midfielder that can sit in front of the back four to break up play and win the ball back.

Brazilian midfielder Fred has struggled massively so far this season and it begs the question why United did not heavily pursue a holding midfielder in the transfer market. Players like Wolves’ Ruben Neves, Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips or West Hams’ Declan Rice would be perfect fits in this team. Expect this to be resolved in the near future.

When you observe the squad as currently constructed, Scott McTominay will have to be that player, at least just for this season. Though he does love to get forward, he has great attributes that would make him very good for this position and that has been emphasised numerous times when the Scotsman has played alongside Fred, especially against the Premier League’s elite.

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McTominay can look to snuff out the opposition’s play and get his head up to feed Pogba and Fernandes when he gains possession. In my opinion, the balance of this midfield is the best United have and it has the potential to succeed if given the proper opportunity. Yes, it would mean that Pogba would have to obey more defensive responsibilities to avoid leaving the Scotland international isolated, but that does not overshadow the many positives this three-man combination can bring.

United have not managed to construct a better defence since the days where Sir Alex Ferguson was manager. The addition of Raphaël Varane will form a strong partnership next to captain Harry Maguire as the club looks to establish a formidable partnership that legendary pair Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić can be proud of.

Left back Luke Shaw enjoyed a great Euro 2020 before heading into the new campaign and fellow Englishman Aaron Wan-Bissaka is ever so dependable on the right-hand side. One criticism of Wan-Bissaka is his ability going forward and being able to deliver quality crosses into the box.

Keeping a hold of Portuguese fullback Diogo Dalot was great for the red half of Manchester and there is no questioning that he a better attacking right-back than Wan-Bissaka, but the former Crystal Palace man is more reliable and far better defensively.

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Up front is where the 20-time league champions possess the most talent. United have an array of attacking options this season from the three mentioned in the starting 11, veteran Edison Cavani, young superstar Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial.

Edinson Cavani of Manchester United

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

It was really tough to leave Greenwood out of this starting team when you consider his rapid development and having scored in each of the Red Devils’ first three games of the season. Nevertheless, everyone knows just how good he is already at 19 years old and has plenty of time to cement his spot.

The front three of Rashford, Ronaldo and Sancho undoubtedly have the potential to be the best attacking trio in the league and though Pogba and Fernandes will have big roles to play in providing quality service to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, so will Rashford and Sancho with their quickness, skill and eye for goal.

Sancho, 21, has all the tools to be a great winger in the league for many years to come. He will be looking to provide opportunities for the Portuguese frontman to level he accomplished with former teammate Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund. Rashford will be eager to hit the ground running when he lines up alongside Ronaldo once he returns from a shoulder injury.

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We have all witnessed Ronaldo’s evolution as a footballer when he signed for United as an 18-year-old to this point. He left in 2009 as the best in the world and has returned in 2021 as one of the greatest ever. He has transferred from a skilful wide man who dazzled the football world with his flashy feet to evolve into one of the most lethal finishers in football history.

Don’t expect Ronaldo to use his pace and skill to glide past players anymore because his game is predicated on being in and around the box. If you watch his goals as his career has progressed, particularly at former club Juventus, it backs that statement to a tee.

United have been crying out for a 20-goal a season striker and they have not had that at their disposal since Dutchman Robin Van Persie when United last won the league title back in 2012-13. Those expectations are heavily pinned on the shoulders of the 36-year-old striker.

What would be your strongest Manchester United starting 11?

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