Who should Manchester United's 'Number 10' be?

Image Credit: planetfootball.com

As soon as it became apparent that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's preferred formation for the 2019/20 season was going to be a 4-2-3-1 system, it was widely expected amongst the football community that a 'number 10' signing would be a priority alongside the defensive upgrades and the early signing of Dan James. Personally, I saw it as an absolute necessity and the only way in which the 4-2-3-1 system would work for us in the long-term. The 'number 10' in this formation is vital to the team's overall play and is responsible for the vast majority of creative actions and decisions and is required to contribute to both goals and assists regularly. Throughout the summer window we were strongly linked to the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paulo Dybala and Christian Eriksen, but ultimately the window closed without any of these names putting pen to paper on a United contract. I was quick to suggest that this was a big mistake and one that we will regret and it unfortunately appears that these thoughts are turning into reality even sooner than expected. However, we are unable to make any squad changes until January at the earliest, so the best thing for Ole and the United team to do now is come up with the best solution using the players we have available currently to mitigate the problem of not signing anyone in this position in order to kick-start a run of improved form.

Realistically, we have 5 options to fill this role for the time being: Lingard, Mata, Pereira, Gomes or Pogba. Let's take a look at their stats and then I will provide my opinion...

Stats so far in 2019/20

  • 0 goals for all.
  • Pogba 2 assists, Pereira 1 assist
Minutes Played
Pogba - 360 mins
Lingard - 245 mins
Pereira - 143 mins
Mata - 86 mins
Gomes - 0 mins

Goal Attempts
Pogba - 7
Lingard - 2
Mata - 1
Pereira - 1

Chances Created (mins per chance created)
Pogba - 11 (33 mins)
Mata - 3 (29 mins)
Lingard - 3 (82 mins)
Pereira - 1 (143 mins)

Penalty Area Touches 
Pogba - 13
Pereira - 6
Lingard - 4
Mata - 3

Goal Contributions per appearance across entire Man United career
Pogba - 0.42
Mata - 0.37
Lingard - 0.27
Pereira - 0.11

In my opinion, this article does not need to delve too much deeper in order to work out the solution for the time being. Pogba is our most creative midfielder and the most likely to score based on career statistics and the likes of chances created and penalty area touches stats as shown above. Pogba tops every single stat and leaves the likes of Pereira and Lingard far behind. It is clear through either watching them or by looking up the stats that both Lingard and Pereira lack the quality to be Manchester United regulars and it remains baffling to me how Lingard has maintained a starting position, let alone Pereira finding a way into the XI. Simply, an effective 'number 10' needs to create and contribute goals and assists. Paul Pogba is by far our best creator and the most likely to both score and assist out of the options highlighted despite starting in a deeper than usual position in the midfield double pivot alongside McTominay.

Although he has only played 86 minutes so far this season, Juan Mata has already managed to equal or beat both Lingard and Pereira for chances created and currently boasts the best 'minutes per chance created' record amongst the options. Although he may lack the pace to effectively carry out our new high pressure strategy for 90 minutes, he still undoubtedly has the quality with the ball at his feet and in my opinion, should be ahead of both Lingard and Pereira in the pecking order. Although we have very little to go off, I also think that Gomes should be given a chance to shine in this role, perhaps in the Europa League, as from what I've seen of him so far, he looks like he will become a far more valuable asset in attacking midfield than Lingard or Pereira will ever be.

The main issue that arises with moving Pogba forwards into attacking midfield is the position vacated. As Pogba is very good at progressing the ball and creating chances, wherever he doesn't play loses his quality. When Pogba plays in a deeper position, we lack the creativity behind the forward line and when Pogba plays further forward we often lack his ability to progress the ball from midfield. His best position in my opinion is in an '8' role as he can combine these abilities in the best of both worlds and directly contribute to ball progression and chance creation as well as goalscoring without ever having to significantly vacate his position. However, for as long as Solskjaer persists with the 4-2-3-1 system, this will not be possible.

Therefore, I think our best solution is to have Fred slot in alongside McTominay. The reason being as I believe he is our second best natural ball progressor after Pogba. Fred can then be responsible for connecting the base of the midfield with Pogba and the front line and Pogba can more directly contribute to chance creation, goals and assists as his start position will be closer to the opposition penalty area.

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