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Opinion: Manchester United’s best XI as the Premier League returns

Recently, it was announced that the Premier League will return on June 17, as long as current progress with the COVID-19 pandemic continues (via BBC).

The news will greet Manchester United fans with great optimism given the strides the club was making before the pandemic shut down Europe’s top five leagues in March.

With many players having the opportunity to recuperate during the pandemic, United are likely to return to action with a fully fit squad, giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a much greater pool of players to pick from than in February. As such, here is a breakdown of United’s best XI based on Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea

Regardless of his tumultuous 2019-20 form, David de Gea remains the best goalkeeper at Manchester United. Questions persist as to if/when Dean Henderson will replace the Spanish great in goal eventually, but with the young keeper on loan at Sheffield United, it would take a seismic shift to remove De Gea from his role between the sticks.

Right-Back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka

One of the best full-backs in the world defensively, Wan-Bissaka’s continued development in attacking areas is what continues to cement his ascent towards being Europe’s best right-back and United’s Player of the Season. According to WhoScored, the 22-year-old is the fourth-most prolific tackler in Europe and leads United’s crop of young and talented fullbacks by quite some distance.

Centre-Back: Victor Lindelof

Many believe that Eric Bailly or even youngster Axel Tuanzebe could contend for a place in United’s XI, but currently, Lindelof remains Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s undisputed starter at the back. The Sweden international’s ball-playing ability and intelligence on the ground have made him an excellent partner for the aerially dominant Maguire, even if he fears for his long-term place in the side.

Centre-Back: Harry Maguire

Ignoring the unnecessary level of scrutiny that resulted from the transfer fee United paid for Maguire, he has been excellent this season and continues to get better. Now club captain, Maguire adds leadership and calmness to a back line of inexperienced talents. An undisputed starter when fully fit.

Left-Back: Luke Shaw

Shaw has been excellent in 2020 and deserves his place in the side despite a poor start to the campaign. The 24-year-old often struggles for the fitness levels required to be one of the best fullbacks in England but remains an asset nonetheless. Shaw will have to continue to excel to remain United’s long-term left-back, with youngster Brandon Williams already earning the adoration of Old Trafford with his electric performances.

Holding Midfield: Scott McTominay

Considering all the factors required to play as the anchoring midfielder for United, McTominay is most likely to start from the current options. The industry, physicality and decision-making that McTominay boasts are what make him the perfect hybrid of Fred, an incredibly talented footballer who belongs slightly further forward, and Nemanja Matic, a player tailor-made for this role but past his best.

McTominay, like Fred, would likely excel in a more advanced role, but until a proper defensive midfielder is added to the ranks, McTominay will remain first choice, as he did at the start of the season.

Central Midfield: Paul Pogba

Regardless of what you believe about Pogba, he must be in the side when fit. The 27-year-old is primed for a brilliant return to form in a deeper role in the side, freed by attacking excellence in front of him and defensive solidity behind him.

Pogba’s expansive passing range, physicality and ridiculous dribbling technique make him the perfect foil for Bruno Fernandes in midfield, potentially transforming the way United break down teams. He will also have no excuse for not performing, with Fred and Matic raring to go if he isn’t up to scratch.

Attacking Midfield: Bruno Fernandes

Pogba excels when his role serves a greater purpose than creating for himself. Having Fernandes as the focal point of this United side will bring the best out of both players.

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Pogba’s pitch coverage and composure should further enhance the effects of Fernandes’ direct, penetrative style, brilliance around the box, and prolific goal creation. Despite being an attacking midfielder, Fernandes also boasts a level of defensive and pressing aggression that even Ander Herrera would be proud of.

Right-Wing: Daniel James

Given his compatibility with the other members of the front three, James had to be picked. Top of United’s assist charts this season, he will relish the opportunity to have a fit United frontline to hit with his deliveries into the box. James isn’t a long-term starter at United, and he probably isn’t better than Mason Greenwood, but he adds a level of variety that makes him an asset to United.

Having his intelligence, drive, and pace on the pitch allows Greenwood to tear up the Europa League and come off the bench to devastating effect, as the 18-year-old has done all season. He has a long and prosperous future at the club, even if he doesn’t play every game.

Left-Wing: Marcus Rashford

Rashford is finally back. With 19 goals this season (via Transfermarkt), the COVID-19 delay has given the young forward an opportunity to recover from injury and hopefully cross 20 for the first time in his career, cementing his place in a higher bracket of European forwards.

Striker: Anthony Martial

Like Rashford, Martial seems likely to cross the 20-goal mark when the Premier League returns, which should cement his place as United’s starting striker next season. Martial has benefitted hugely from Fernandes’ creativity, and tends to score in the biggest of matches for United.

While excellent this season, Martial and Rashford have been quite codependent, alluding to a lack of creativity in United’s side. With the likes of Fernandes, Pogba, and potentially Jadon Sancho in the side, as per ESPN, the two forwards will continue upon this season’s development and tear up the Premier League in the near future.

READ MORE: GMP issue statement on the possibility of United playing at neutral venues

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