Mid-season report: The numbers behind MUFC

If you’re wondering whether it would be right or wrong to call Manchester United’s ongoing season a good one, then you’re not alone. It has been an exciting for the fans of the red devils but it’s still hard to place any name tags like ‘successful’ or ‘improved’ on it yet. A positive run in the league that sees the club in a so-called “title race” has been sandwiched the disappointing Champions League group stage exit and recent Carabao Cup semi-final loss to City. A very different season of football which started with no pre-season break, is filled with fixture congestion issues and still hasn’t been immune to repeated COVID contractions and player fitness issues, makes it hard to assess whether United are actually having a good season or not. We try to break through the confusion using our greatest weapon – data. Below are a few detailed data visualizations of some of the underlying numbers that can indicate how the red devils are performing this season and who the stand-out players are.

 

 [Goals vs G-xG, EPL 20/21]

The first viz highlights the Premier League teams who are over-performing on their expected goals like Southampton and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham and those who are under-performing with respect to their goals scored like Sheffield United and Burnley. All stats used are per 90 minute stats. United and Liverpool have not only been scoring high but also more than expected. This kind of slight over-performance is sustainable and expected for a top team challenging for titles since they would boast of players with the ability to over-perform and score from unexpected situations as well. It reads well for United fans who are trying to understand if this type of performance in the league is sustainable.

 

 [Goals vs G-xG, MUFC in all comps 20/21]

The next logical question will be which United players are over-performing and under-performing on expected goals. This viz highlights exactly that. The players over-performing on xG are Rashford and Bruno. Rashford’s xG in the game against Paris Saint Germain at Old Trafford was just 0.1 whereas his goal against Brighton at home was a 0.3 xG chance. Bruno’s double against Everton at Goodison park had a combined xG of just 0.2.
Worryingly, Anthony Martial has a negative G-xG differential. His blank against PSG at Old Trafford accrued 0.9 xG while he failed to scored at West Bromwich Albion even with an xG of 0.8. Martial has had a reputation of over-performing on his expected goals metric, the best of which United fans witnessed in the 19/20 season where he scored 17 goals in the league with an xG of 10.9 only. Greenwood has also been underwhelming so far with just 3 goals this season after having scored 17 in all competitions in 19/20. If those two can start finishing like their usual selves and support Rashford and Bruno in attack, United fans can expect even better attacking output from the team in the remainder of the season.

 

 [Progressive passes vs Progressive Distance,MUFC 20/21]

This viz maps progressive passes per 90 against progressive distance of thoses per 90 minutues. Alex Telles’ consistently aggressive crossing helps him top progressive distance while Bruno regularly looking for line-breaking passes and assists helps him top number of progressive passes. Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw and United’s Centre-Backs ensure high progression even with lesser number of progressive passes. Donny Van De Beek and the forwards prefer less progressive passing.

 

[Pressures per 90 vs Pressure success %, MUFC all comps 20/21]

This viz gives a good indication of United’s pressing strategy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It highlights how Bruno Fernandes and Fred are press-hungry at the cost of success % while Paul Pogba & Scott McTominay maintain a good balance. Luke Shaw and the centre-Backs prioritize success. It gives a general indication that the attackers don’t press too high, while Bruno and Fred have complete license to go overboard to win back possession and Pogba, McTominay Matic are expected to strike a controlled approach. The defence opts for safety over high pressing numbers. In short, Ole prefers winning the midfield battle the most.

[Carries vs Progressive Distance, MUFC 20/21]

This viz highlights player movements with the ball. Nemanja Matic stands out on both the number of carries per 90 and progression towards goal while Marcus Rashford and Daniel James boast high progression even with less number of carries.

[MUFC Goals & Expected goals Trend in EPL 20/21]

Last but not the least, we take a look at the game-by-game trend of United’s expected goals and actual goals scored in the league so far. It’s clear that the red devils didn’t create enough against top 4 rivals Chelsea and Arsenal and weren’t good value for the win in both games. United should have scored at least one goal in the drab 0-0 draw against neighbors Manchester City. But the team showed great spirit in over-performing on xG to clinch wins against West Ham and Sheffield United even when the team wasn’t creative enough which shows a winning quality lacking in recent United sides against such clubs in the league.

In summary, much of the underlying numbers have indicated clear progress from last season and a genuine forward-thinking approach from Ole Gunnar Solksjaer which have rewarded him with good attacking displays and an unexpected title challenge in the league. The worries have been towards the defensive end where United have let in some goals cheaply often owing to set-pieces. Doubts also remain of United’s performance in big games this season after having done wonderfully well last season in such games. The last worry seems to be over-reliance on a few players. Days in which Bruno and Rashford are shut down result in poor attacking displays like against City in the Carabao cup. Ole will be looking for more from the likes of Martial, Greenwood, Wan-Bissaka and Pogba towards the latter of the season. Who knows, if the missing members step up and things go his way, Ole might be the first United manager post-SAF to make a genuine push for a league title towards the end of the season. As of now, United fans should take solace in knowing that the underlying numbers support the narrative of improvement from last season and they should expect more points in the league at the very least.

The Importance of Bruno Fernandes

It was around 30 mins into the Manchester derby at Old Trafford when the ball went out for a Manchester City throw in and the man wearing no.18 on his back had an exchange of words with the City manager, Pep Guardiola. A bit of back and forth ended with Bruno Fernandes practically shushing the Catalonian. A short 5 second altercation showed exactly what Manchester United were missing prior to the Portuguese’s arrival in the January transfer window. 

Manchester United’s 19/20 season up until the end of the January transfer window had been a huge roller coaster ride. This was a team which could go toe-to-toe with Europe’s finest on their day but fail to win a match they should be comfortably winning on some other day. The young squad assembled by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had potential which was clear to see, but after a few good performances and results, their inconsistent form again dipped and a 2-0 loss to Burnley showcased just how poor United looked on their bad days. The performance was lacklustre and uninspiring much like the season till that point, and if United were down, there was usually no coming back from it. 

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” – United lacked someone ‘tough’. A strong personality, a vocal leader, someone who can make a difference when the chips are down and in that process rally everyone around him too. The 2-0 loss to Burnley was followed by United acting swiftly in the transfer window and securing the signature of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon for a reported 47m pounds fee (excluding add-ons). Fernandes made his Manchester United debut the following weekend against Wolves at Old Trafford and his impact was easily seen. 

The match ended 0-0 but Fernandes was the best player on the pitch. Constantly demanding the ball, finding pockets of spaces to drift into, Bruno was taking charge. In fact, he was even constantly instructing and talking to teammates and telling them what to do, something about his personality that is known by everyone close to him. This was the type of impact he had after training only for a single day. The goalless draw was followed by 2 consecutive league wins against Chelsea and Watford with Fernandes having a say in both those games. Early signs suggested that the red devils had made a wise investment. Two comfortable wins in the FA Cup and Europa League and a tough draw at Goodison Park followed and then it was time for the Manchester derby.

Fernandes had set up Anthony Martial from a quick freekick earlier in the game and then came the altercation with Guardiola. It was at that moment some started to think United had finally found their talisman, their leader, their ‘strong personality’ in the dressing room. The match ended with United winning 2-0 and they looked comfortable in doing so. The 26 year old’s impact had made the team play better and everything around Old Trafford looked like it was falling into place.

The Derby was the last game played at Old Trafford before the pandemic put a stop on all the footballing activities. After the resumption of football, Manchester United were arguably the best team in the league for the remainder of the season.

Manchester United went unbeaten for the remainder of the campaign upon resumption. In fact, the red devils didn’t lose a single game in the league since Fernandes made his debut against Wolves on the deadline day of the winter transfer window. The first match they lost which involved the Portugese was the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Place on the opening day of the 2020/21 season. His immediate impact was for everyone to see. The 26 year old contributed to 8 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League last season, no other midfielder in the league contributed to more since his debut last season. 

Bruno Fernandes has now scored 18 goals and provided 13 assists for Manchester United in 33 appearances across all competitions, that’s 31 goal involvements in 33 appearances – an outstanding record. In the Premier League, he has scored 13 goals, only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored more since Fernandes made his debut. He became notorious for ‘only scoring penalties’ towards the end of last season but he has scored more non-penalty goals than any other midfielder in the league since he made his debut. 

If we look past the goals and assists, he also became the first Manchester United player to win back to back Premier League Player of the month awards since Cristiano Ronaldo and was also named as Manchester United’s player of the year despite having been here only for half the campaign. Fernandes also has won 5 man of the match awards for Manchester United so far. He also has a 4.4 sca/p90 which ranks him 10th in the league. SCA means shot creating actions such as a pass, dribble or even a tackle.

Courtesy of Statsbomb and football Slices, Fernandes’ percentile rank compared to the midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues is exceptional. 

Some of the stats like the pass completion rate or his non-penalty xG per shot may look a bit low but that showcases his playing style. The Portuguese isn’t afraid to take risks. If there is even a slight chance of setting someone through on goal or even if he gets half a yard of space from a shooting area, he will go for it. 

In football, the great players have this exceptional ability to make everyone think that something is going to happen when they have the ball. Fernandes is one of them. He constantly demands the ball is played to him and wants everything to go through him. Players around Fernandes are prepared to go the extra mile too, making constant runs and finding spaces in dangerous areas for the 26 year old to pick them out with a pass, because they know he has the ability to do exactly that. 

Tactical Analysis

Francesco Guidolin managed Bruno Fernandes when he was at Udinese and the Italian manager claims that Fernandes is one of the most intelligent players he has ever managed. He isn’t the only one to heap praise on the Portugese midfielder, the sporting director who took Fernandes from Boavista’s academy to Novora says “he is the most intelligent person I have ever met”. From using post-it notes to learn new languages and watching the replays of his games right after it is over, Fernandes uses every shred of his brain and his natural talent to become the player he is. 

It is easy to see how intelligent he is. For example, the goal he scored against Newcastle shows how well he reads the game. 

Here, he starts United’s counter attack intelligently linking up with van de Beek with a backheel and sets of running. Van de Beek passes to Mata, who releases Rashford and the counter attack is in motion. 

Rashford receives the ball wide left and continues running into the vacant space which prompts Fernandes to go inside in case the Englishman decides to run it wide and put in a cross. 

Instead, Marcus Rashford decides to cut in and take on Jamaal Lascelles which makes Fernandes make a move towards the outside. In the image, the moment Rashford goes inside, Fernandes starts going towards the outside. 

The Portuguese continues his run and Rashford expertly finds him after drawing 3 defenders towards him. Fernandes then takes a touch and then finishes it into the top corner beating Karl Darlow. 

He reads and understands the game very well and even if his stats seem unbelievable, he can impact games and goals without being directly involved in the goals as well. 

In the 3rd goal that Anthony Martial scored against Sheffield United last season, Fernandes didn’t have an assist but was still involved heavily. 

He receives the ball from deep through Paul Pogba and instantly gives it to Martial behind with an expertly executed backheel, catching the Sheffield United defenders off guard. 

He then makes a move towards the box while Martial finds Rashford out wide in the left side half space. 

He sees Martial making a run inside the box and instantly drops back to provide another passing option to Rashford. 

This catches defender John Egan off guard, who is left ball watching and fails to cover Martial who expertly chips the keeper to complete his hattrick. 

One largely underrated aspect of Fernandes’ style of play is his heading ability and his ability to get into positions of scoring a free header. Now his heading ability isn’t as polished as that of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Robert Lewandowski but his movement and his ability to understand the game allows him to find spaces in order to find a free header inside the box. 

He scored a headed goal against Everton by sliding in between the two centre backs and connecting from a Luke Shaw cross. 

Here, he is inside the box waiting for Shaw to deliver a cross, as soon as Shaw puts his foot to the ball, Fernandes flicks on the switch and makes a run in between the CBs

He meets the cross, fairly unmarked and then slots it home beating Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal. 

What makes Bruno Fernandes so special is his hunger and drive to always improve and be better. “He wants to be the best”, says Giraetta, speaking to Jack Lang for The Athletic. He watches his games in their entirety as soon as he reaches home, even if it’s 2:30 in the morning. He watches them irrespective of the result, when they have won, drawn or when they have lost. Especially, when they have lost. He has a constant drive to become better than he already is. 

For people close to him, they have said he has always been like this. It doesn’t matter if Bruno is playing street football with his elder brother and his mates or if he’s playing with Cristiano Ronaldo for the national team, if there is something he doesn’t agree with, he will say it. He is expressive, an extrovert, and very blunt about his feelings. When Luuk de Jong scored the winner to take Sevilla to the Europa League finals and knock Manchester United out of the competition in the process, a footage was floated around the social media sites of him arguing with Victor Lindelof. Another footage came across when he was seen kicking the door, much to the dislike of the security guard present, after he was sent off in a match he played for Sporting Lisbon. “I’ll pay for the door, you can go f*** yourself” were the words coming out of the 26 year old’s mouth. A true indictment of his personality, he just cannot keep it inside. 

The altercation with Pep Guardiola is no different and that moment totally summed up what Bruno Fernandes is all about and what Manchester United had been missing prior to his arrival. A strong personality who will constantly expect better from himself and from those around him and won’t be afraid to speak up whenever required. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Bruno Fernandes brings the ‘X-Factor’ to the team and it’s easy to see how. 

If there ever was a “Manchester United player” then Bruno Fernandes is the best player to express. His high risk, high reward style of play, his relentless work rate, his constant drive to win the ball back and demanding the ball is played to him, he is everything that Manchester United players of the old were – a fighter. Fernandes is a fighter on and off the pitch and he won’t settle for anything but the best.

Fernandes isn’t fazed by the pressure that comes with the price tag or the expectations of the fans. He does his job and whenever his team needs someone to step up, he is the one to do it. Maybe he relishes the responsibility, maybe he thrives when the odds are stacked against him. 

Manchester United may have finally found their talisman in their journey back to the top. After all, the fans haven’t named him the ‘The Portugese Magnifico’ for no reason.  

Midfield Combinations for 20/21 season

Manchester United rewarded their patient fans with their first foray into the summer transfer window with the signing of Donny Van De Beek. The Dutch international reportedly comes on a 5-year contract with a transfer fee of 39m Euros + 5m Euros in add-ons – a very shrewd acquisition given the fee and United’s need for midfield depth. The quality in that department now means that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has many combinations to consider for the coming season. We analyse what Van De Beek brings to the table and the best midfield combinations as a result.

Van De Beek playing style

Solskjær’s official statement after signing Van De Beek: “His [Van de Beek] ability to see space, time his movements and read the game will really complement the qualities that we have in midfield and his arrival really strengthens the depth of talent we have in that position.”

Ole clearly knows what he’s talking about. Donny adds a few qualities to United’s midfield that are largely absent and his weaknesses are already covered with qualities of the existing roster.

Firstly, let’s analyse his playing position and role. Donny has spent the majority of his time playing in the No. 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 in his time at Ajax. He is predominantly an attacking midfielder. De Jong’s departure saw him play in a central midfielder role last season as Ziyech took the no.10 role and Neres the right wing slot. In half the games when one of these 2 players would be dropped to bench, De Beek would retain his no.10 spot. He ended up starting 19 times in the attacking mid slot and 18 times in central midfield as a result. Even the times Donny featured in central midfield, the defensive-minded Lisandro Martinez sat back to allow VDB to bomb forward and give a 4-1-4-1 shape during attack similar to how Matic allowed Pogba to join Bruno in attack during the second half of United’s season. From these, it can be inferred that Donny would serve as a competitor for Bruno and Pogba in United’s first XI or speaking role-wise, the box-to-box role and the no.10 roles. We will get back to this when we discuss combinations.

Next, we compare Van De Beek statistically with United’s midfielders to see what he brings to the table. All players who played in the 3 midfield roles in Ole’s 4-2-3-1 have been considered. These 7 players are Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Scott Mctominay, Fred, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Perriera and Jesse Lingard. Only stats for the 19/20 league season have been considered. While the Eredivisie vs Premier League difference will obviously be there, this comparison should serve as a good indication.

Firstly it must be said that VDB played 23 of the 25 Eredivisie games this season. Over the last 2 seasons he played in all 34 games in each season for Ajax coming on as a substitute only 5 times in this stretch. His fitness is impeccable and a big pro given Pogba’s regular niggles. 


His goals per 90 is 0.38 inferior only to Bruno at 0.61 who has had an amazing period since joining the club. Scott is the next closest at 0.2. Donny’s shots on target % is highest at 36% beating Bruno (35%) and Pogba (33%). His shots on target per 90 is 0.75 inferior only to Bruno (1.06) and Andreas (0.85). His goals per shots is the highest at 0.18 beating Scott (0.13) and Bruno (0.1). These stats indicate a player who is an adept and efficient scorer. VDB guarantees goals without being wasteful. He is a player who picks his moments and possesses immense technique and finishing prowess. Unlike Bruno, he is not too trigger-happy and rarely attempts long-range shots. Smart off-the-ball movement to ghost into good areas and well-placed finishes are the two big traits that fans can look forward to. He has already shown a glimpse of this in his substitute appearance against Luton this season.

He scored 8 goals last season matching Bruno’s half-season tally while being far ahead of any other United midfielder. His 5 assists also rank him second after Bruno (7) placing him second-best in terms of goal threat. This is confirmed with his strong G+A per 90 stat of 0.61 only bested by Bruno again (a ridiculously good 1.14) while being far ahead of Pogba at 0.25. These signify Donny’s goal threat. While Ole has markedly improved United’s defence conceding 20 less goals in the league compared to the 18/19 season to bring the goals conceded stat to 36 (only bested by Liverpool and Manchester City in the 19/20 season by 4 and 2 goals respectively), the goals scored stat hasn’t improved much going from 65 to 66 goals from 18/19 to 19/20. While this can be attributed to Lukaku leaving, Greenwood settling in and Martial’s first full season playing as the centre-forward, Ole will want more goals. A full season with Bruno should help that but Van De Beek chipping in with a few goals and assists will help as well. If more firepower is what Ole is looking for, he is getting that with VDB for sure.

An underrated part of Donny’s game is the defensive aspect. While his best work undoubtedly comes in advanced areas of the game, he is no passenger in the defensive phase showcasing intense pressing and a penchant for crunching tackles in key moments of the game. The stats highlight these as well. His tackles won per 90 is 1.22 bested only by Fred (2.13) and Scott (1.57) who have both played in much deeper and ball-winning roles this season. Donny beats Bruno (1.06), Matic (1.1) and Pogba (1.19) indicating what a good tackler he is despite his attacking traits. His interceptions per 90 are also decent at 0.75 surpassed by Scott (1.68), Fred (1.58) and Matic (1.31) who play much deeper than him. Pogba at 0.37 and Bruno at 0.68 are the next best. This fits really well with Ole’s requirements of a hard-working ball-winning midfielder. The only thing Donny can be accused of not being a master of is playmaking. His key passes, chances created and through balls aren’t especially great indicating playmaking isn’t his strength. He prefers to be on the end of assists with his intense off-the-ball runs which fits well with the likes of Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Bruno who now have another partner to find in the attacking phase while deconstructing defences.

In a nutshell, United fans can look forward to an aggressive attacking CM/AM player who has a knack for scoring goals, guarantees intense pressing and tackling in midfield, prefers to be on the end of quality passes rather than play them himself and is fit and hard-working enough to do these consistently.

It must be noted in the analysis above that Jesse Lingard and Andreas Perriera rank in the bottom 2 for most of these stats unless explicitly mentioned, highlighting why Ole considers them lowest in the pecking order and possibly surplus to requirements with the arrival of Donny. 

Midfield combinations

Before understanding where VDB can fit, let’s first understand what he is fitting into. Ole has deployed a 4-2-3-1 throughout the 19/20 season with the only variations being in him playing a counter-attacking style in the first half of the season and a possession-based style in the second half. The only times he played a back 5 were in big games to play on the counter which worked pre-lockdown but failed in the FA cup semi-final against Chelsea. The chances of a diamond formation also seem low given the fact that Ole has played it only once in his caretaker stint. A diamond requires 2 attacking wingbacks and 2 aggressive shuttlers ahead of a defensive midfielder to work. The one time Ole played it was more of a defensive ploy with Herrera and Fred as the shuttlers and Matic as defensive midfielder. The chances of a diamond with the current setup seem low. Coupled with Ole’s clear attraction to wingers, Greenwood’s rise and the Sancho pursuit, it’s safe to say Ole’s ideal blueprint is a variant of 4-2-3-1.

Next it’s important to understand that in the 4-2-3-1, Ole does have a clear differentiation between the 2 midfielders in the pivot. There’s one player who drops deeper between the CBs to pick up the ball during the build-up phase and playmakes from the defensive midfield zones while the other is more of a ball-carrier who keeps trying to move closer to the most advanced attacking midfielder and focuses on linking defence to attack. For this discussion let’s name the 3 roles as the deep-lying-playmaker (DLP), box-to-box midfielder (B2B) and attacking midfielder (AM).

Let’s see which players have played in the 3 roles over the course of the 19/20 season.

  • When Pogba and Scott played at the start of the season Pogba was dropping deeper allowing Scott to move ahead. Pogba was the DLP and Scott the B2B while Andreas and Jesse rotated for the AM role. 
  • When Scott and Fred played during the rest of the first half of the season, Fred was the DLP. United didn’t build up much and played on the counter so both seemed almost balanced in a double pivot but Fred was comparatively deeper. 
  • In the second half of the season when Matic and Pogba played, Matic was the clear DLP dropping and maintaining a very defensive minded position, allowing the B2B Pogba to join the AM Bruno almost creating 4-1-4-1 shape in attack against weaker oppositions. 
  • Towards the Europa knockouts in the end we again noticed Fred playing the DLP role and Pogba B2B with Bruno AM.

Given all these combinations, Ole’s pecking order equation seems to be

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

Ole has never played Scott as the DLP. Even when paired with Pogba, Scott never dropped deep and was always maintaining a B2B movement on the pitch. This goes in line with his youth days where he has always played as an AM or B2B as well. There is a good case to be made that Ole doesn’t see Scott as a DLP even if his Matic comparison comments may have made many fans think so. Lingard and Perreira are clear backups to Bruno and the choice for who comes next might get solved with their transfer scenarios this summer, while Mata also remains an option for AM.

From all that we have seen and analysed of Donny Van De Beek, we can take a shot at guessing where he might fit in this equation.

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>VDB>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>VDB>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

It’s a safe assumption that VDB will not affect the DLP equation. He has never played that role and does not have the traits to nail it. He should easily slot in as the next best options for both B2B and AM roles after Pogba and Bruno. This now brings to the fore 3 clear combinations in which Ole can lineup this season:

1. Matic (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM)

Simply lining up the first choices of our equation we come up with the impressive trio that bossed many games post-lockdown during the red devils’ outstanding run to clinch 3rd finish in the league last season.

Pros:
1. Heavy possession game that sees the best of Pogba and Bruno in terms of chance creation and Matic in terms of ball retention and build-up. This is ideal for breaking down low-block teams that cede possession.
2. VDB coming off the bench as a great quality option if the plan A doesn’t work out, which was something United lacked in their season-end run
Cons:
1. Matic’s age makes him susceptible to pressing. Southampton gave him a hard time and mitigated United’s possession game, while Aston Villa also troubled him for a while before they were scored against. This led to Matic being rightfully dropped against the press-hungry Sevilla in the Europa league.

2. Fred (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We explore the next-best DLP option paired with best options for the other 2 roles

Pros:
1. Good counter-press value with Fred’s ball-winning and pressing a huge trait. He bossed the midfield against a press-heavy Sevilla. This would be Ideal for games on the counter against the Premier league top 4 and Champions League knockouts.
2. Again, VDB coming off the bench as a plan B
Cons:
1. Fred’s build-up and possession traits aren’t impressive. His passing range and creativity is average making it tough to dominate possession and create chances. Against low block teams this becomes a big negative as displayed often in the first half of the season.

3. Pogba (DLP) + VDB (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We round off with a slightly left-field but not entirely improbable midfield combination, given it presents a chance to field the 3 most attacking midfielders United have.

Pros:
1. Creativity and attacking movement can be expected to be highest with all 3 players boasting goal and assist threat. Can be experimented against weaker Premier League teams to start with.
2. A potential elite team 4-1-4-1 attack which United have been craving for for ages
Cons:
1. Pogba as a DLP isn’t super convincing. He lost the ball a few times during building from the back last season and isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. In getting the best out of VDB and Bruno, Pogba’s best role as a B2B suffers.

There is also a good case of switching the B2B and AM roles in this combination to allow Donny to be further ahead which has hinted at when he was brought on while chasing the game during the 20/21 league opener against Crystal Palace.

While the chances of a formation other than 4-2-3-1 are low but not zero and incoming or outgoing transfers can still change these equations before the window ends, these 3 combinations seem the most likely options Ole would be considering. It will be really interesting to see which combination the Norwegian opts for over the course of the 20/21 season.