Jadon Sancho Anthony Martial Man Utd GFXGetty

Sancho in and Martial out? How Man Utd will line up for 2021-22 season

The Premier League is back and with it comes renewed hope and optimism from Manchester United that this will be the season they can mount a serious title challenge and end their trophy drought. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has brought in Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, who are both certain starters and should strengthen his first-choice XI, and with Paul Pogba looking likely to stay, the Norwegian has better options than last season. 

With the defence seemingly set, the biggest dilemma is going to be who plays in midfield.

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Indeed, with an expected change in formation that allows for more attacking talent in the team, there are a variety of  formations Solskjaer could go with this season.

Below, we look at the manager's most appealing options... 

A change of formation? 

Solskjaer looks set to ditch his favoured 4-2-3-1 this season in favour of a more attacking line-up which could be beneficial to a number of players, including Donny van de Beek.

The Dutchman struggled for game time last season but after a productive off-season, in which he has bulked up, the former Ajax star has come back determined to push for a more regular place in the starting XI. 

However, as it stands, it doesn't look as if Van de Beek will be in Solskjaer's first-choice line-up.

Beginning at the back, David de Gea is expected to start the season in goal, given Dean Henderson missed a chunk of pre-season as he continues to recover from Covid-19.

That’s a huge blow for the England international, who had replaced De Gea as United's No.1 in the league during the second half of last season. Solskjaer likes continuity, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see De Gea retain his place for a while. 

In front of the Spaniard, the back four is arguably set in stone at this stage.

Luke Shaw comes into the new season looking to pick up where he left off, after following up the best season of his club career with a great Euros, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a sure starter on the right-hand side of the defence.

Harry Maguire’s importance was emphasised when he was missing through injury at the end of last season and now the England centre-half has a new partner in £34 million ($47m) man Varane. 

The biggest decision for Solskjaer is going to come in the middle of the pitch. Nemanja Matic has had a good pre-season and could get the nod in the holding role ahead of Scott McTominay and Fred.

Man Utd 4-3-3 Formation GFXGoal

Bruno Fernandes is assured of his position in the starting XI, no matter what formation Solskjaer selects, and Paul Pogba is the best option alongside the prolific Portuguese.

With Paris Saint-Germain adding to their already massive wage bill by signing Lionel Messi, Pogba’s chances of moving to the Parc des Princes this summer seem slim, and United are keen to keep him anyway.

If he can produce the performances we saw in this summer’s Euros, then Solskjaer’s side could have a real chance of competing for major honours.

Up front, meanwhile, Sancho is sure to feature, and most likely on the right wing, where United have struggled for a long time. His versatility, however, does mean he is capable of playing on either flank.

Marcus Rashford is expected to be out until October but when he returns from shoulder surgery, he should reclaim his preferred position on the left-hand side. He has a good relationship with Sancho already and their ability to play anywhere across the forward line could be key to United’s attacking success this season. 

When it comes to leading the line, Solskjaer has to choose between Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial. The latter has often underwhelmed the fans but he could start the season up front, with Cavani given an extended holiday and yet to return to the club's training base. 

Martial will likely have to settle for the role of impact sub when United are at full strength but he has impressed in pre-season and the French forward is optimistic about his chances of rediscovering his very best form after being hindered by fitness problems.

Pogba benched for big games?

For games against stronger opposition, it would not be a surprise to see Solskjaer revert to the more defensive 4-2-3-1 formation he’s favoured since his arrival. 

The thought process is that the arrival of Varane solidifying the defence means the need for two holding midfielders is redundant but there will undoubtedly be games where caution remains the more sensible option.

Man Utd 4-2-3-1 Formation GFXGoal

Consequently, for the tougher tests, the tried-and-trusted 'McFred' partnership of McTominay and Fred could return. That would mean one of the attacking midfielders would be cut and Fernandes would play as the No.10. 

Solskjaer could also push Pogba out to the left wing, as he did in a few games last season, or alternatively drop the World Cup winner to the bench and stick with Rashford out wide.


Back to 4-3-3 again but with slightly different personnel this time. As expected, the back four stays the same but Solskjaer does always have the option to bring Henderson in for De Gea. 

The 24-year-old will be disappointed he hasn’t been able to hit the ground running the season but will hope he still gets the opportunity to prove why he should be United’s No 1. 

Man Utd 4-3-3 Formation GFXGoal

We could also see a key change in midfield.

McTominay has really improved the defensive side of his game and, with a potentially more solid back-line behind him, he could be entrusted with the responsibility of serving as the sole holding midfielder behind an attacking pairing of Fernandes and one other. 

Up front, Sancho’s versatility means he is able to play on the left and moving the England international would allow Solskjaer to get him into the same side as Greenwood and Cavani.