Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is blessed with attacking options in his Man Utd team ahead of next Premier League fixture vs Southampton.
Depth can often be a deceptive thing in football squads.
You can think, and say, that your squad has plentiful depth but it means little until crunch time and you look to your bench in need of inspiration.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a glance behind him in the Gdansk technical area in May this year and didn’t see what he wanted to see. Manchester United were locked at 1-1 with Villarreal in the Europa League final and were in dire need of a boost from the bench.
But with Solskjaer having put all his attacking eggs in one basket when naming his starting 11 — Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Paul Pogba all featuring from the off — there was nothing left in reserve.
That the woefully underperforming (and half fit) Rashford stayed on the pitch the whole 120 minutes still baffles many. How United needed an impact sub of Solskjaer’s 1999 vintage.
In the end, United couldn’t change the game because they didn’t have the depth and they lost after a long and cruel penalty shootout.
Fast forward to the next competitive game under Solskjaer’s stewardship, against Leeds last weekend, and a front three of Pogba, Greenwood and Daniel James doesn’t scream of a side that has significantly strengthened their options.
Pogba was a midfielder playing out of position against Leeds and James is little more than squad player, while Greenwood was playing centre-forward in the absence of Cavani. The Uruguayan and Rashford were both absent from the matchday squad.
But with Anthony Martial (back from injury) and Jadon Sancho (yes, the new signing finally named in a United squad) both coming off the bench at Old Trafford — and with Rashford and Cavani still to come — Solskjaer can now feel in a position of luxury.
Who should be in United’s first choice front three? Join the debate in the comments below.
He has attacking options to bring off the bench; two completely different but similarly high calibre front threes if he so wishes, which should mean United won’t find themselves in tricky spots like the one in Gdansk.
It’s rare that every single player is available at one time, but when Rashford and Cavani do return, there is a sense that United must accommodate Pogba back in a midfield position — albeit one that gives him freedom. Playing both Pogba and Bruno Fernandes as well as three forwards is a must for United, especially against lesser opponents they are expected to beat.
There has been plenty of talk in pre-season about Solskjaer deploying a 4-3-3 formation with dual No.8s in Pogba and Fernandes.
This is surely the way he can squeeze as many attacking players into the same side at once, though some might see that as a disturbance for the Portuguese playmaker. Yet Fernandes certainly possesses the work rate to play slightly deeper and his passing range is virtually unrivalled in the Premier League, aside maybe from his midfield partner Pogba.
With someone like Fred or Scott McTominay holding the fort and the pace of Raphael Varane at the back, even if United are caught short at the back they should have the pace and tenacity to flood the defence, and then counter-attack again.
Fernandes has proven himself as a pure No.10 at Old Trafford, but there’s no reason he could not shine in a slightly different system. He probably wouldn’t even need to play much deeper, especially with Pogba alongside him.
United should be dominating the majority of their Premier League opponents this season and this is the way to do it.
It could give Cavani, and then Rashford — when he’s fit again — the perfect attacking environment to return to. It could mean United reach another level, even surpassing what they managed against Leeds.