Fitting Paul Pogba into Manchester United's first choice XI under Rangnick is not so easy

Paul Pogba is closing in on a return for Manchester United after returning to training last week.

There is a good chance Pogba will be fit to start the FA Cup fourth round against Middlesbrough and he will get a chance to show what he can do.

After that United face Burnley, Southampton, and Leeds, before the Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid.

Pogba will want to start against Atletico, and it seems logical enough that United would want to start him too. But he must prove he deserves to be part of the first choice XI.

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Limited spots available in Rangnick’s 4-3-3

Rangnick has settled on a 4-3-3 formation after plenty of experimenting during his opening games in charge.

This has seen him find a settled system with Scott McTominay as the deepest of the three midfielders and Fred and Bruno Fernandes both playing box-to-box roles.

This has worked because it has prevented Fernandes from growing too isolated as an attacking player, and it has also given Fred more license to get forward.

To fit Paul Pogba in, either Fred or Bruno Fernandes has to drop out, and this is where it gets a little tricky for the big games, over how Rangnick sets up.

Can Pogba replace Fred?

Bruno Fernandes has 18 goal contributions this season, seven goals and 11 assists, more than any other player. He is too good to leave out for the big matches, although of course, Paul Pogba would be a high quality stand-in.

It is more likely United will want to get both Pogba and Fernandes into the team, and it would be Fred who drops out.

For this to work, Pogba has to show the same work rate the Brazilian does. Fred leads United in tackles won this season (29), while Pogba has won only three tackles in his nine Premier League appearances.

Fred also leads United in interceptions (32). Pogba has 12 to his name. Fred also leads United in successful pressures (110), with Pogba on 40. Bruno Fernandes is second with 95.

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From an attacking perspective, Fred is beginning to show some of the qualities which prompted United to spend £47 million on him in 2018. In his last seven starts he has four assists, one goal, and one penalty won.

Pogba should be an upgrade from an attacking point of view, but Fred has set a high bar lately, coupled with his high-energy defensive work.

Rangnick can mix and match his team selection through February, but when the crunch decision comes and United’s line-up to face Atletico is announced, he will have to leave somebody out. Pogba has to prove he deserves to be in the team ahead of Fred.

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