If Jose Mourinho had had his way in the summer, Manchester United might well have been lining up with a shiny new centre-back pairing and a right-sided forward plus, if his cards had been played right, a second striker on the books to inhibit any complacency from creeping into Romelu Lukaku.
It wasn’t to be, though – and haven’t we heard about it from the United manager – yet in the latest episode of this season’s bemusing disappointment, it was a position that Mourinho seemed to have comprehensively covered that shone a fresh light on the ever-growing gulf between the Reds and the highest echelon of the Premier League.
A club with United’s resources should have the means in place to cope without their prized midfield asset – take Kevin De Bruyne’s absence at Manchester City, for example – yet the lack of creativity in the side without Paul Pogba when United fell 3-1 to the Blues eight days ago was perhaps as instructive as it was deflating.
Manchester United top stories, November 19
As grating as his lapses in concentration and penalty-taking gimmicks might be, United are better with Pogba in the XI – far more games are won with him than without him – and a good deal of consideration needs to be placed on how United will score goals when the World Cup winner is unavailable.
No United player has been involved in more goals than Pogba since Mourinho’s arrival in 2016 and, with the leader of the chance-per-minute stakes, Juan Mata, unfancied in a midfield three, it is little wonder there is such a lack of cohesion between midfield and attack at Old Trafford.
For all of Ander Herrera’s productivity and Nemanja Matic’s defensive contribution, neither is the sort to break the line with a pass that could not be spotted by the naked eye. Fred, the £52 million summer acquisition, has offered little in that department on the evidence of his nine United outings to date and Andreas Pereira, the recipient of rave reviews in La Liga over the past two seasons, cannot seem to get a look in for love nor money.
Perhaps Pogba’s magnified personality masks the creative deficiencies in United’s midfield but, if the Reds are to set about bridging the gap back to the top table, the burden of creation will have to be more fairly shared around at Old Trafford.