Cristiano Ronaldo is about to become a Manchester United player once more. The very Theatre of Dreams upon which he announced his arrival on to the largest stage in football could very much see the apex of his playing days as well.
In this regard, it is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who now has to make the crucial decision of accommodating the superstar in the starting lineup in a manner that is most likely to gain silverware for the Red Devils. The wide array of attacking options at the gaffer’s disposal is bound to be the stuff of headaches.
1. 4-3-3 as a Striker
This is the style that will see Ronaldo operate as the lone striker up-front. The obvious caveat here is that the Portuguese star will be isolated from the rest of his lineup and will have to make use of his clinical finishing and creative positioning to make the most out of inputs from the rest of the outfield.
At the same time, deploying him here would also address a key striker issue that Solskjaer has at the moment, namely Anthony Martial’s unreliability, Edinson Cavani’s age, and Mason Greenwood’s relative inexperience as a striker in the top flight.
Ronaldo’s proven knack for scoring goals as well as his dynamic positioning here in past stints with Juventus and Real Madrid as well as with Portugal in international outings will add up to making this a smart choice.
2. 4-2-3-1 Striker Partnered with Bruno at 10.
This style would be a more sensible extension of the previous formation. Here, it will be Bruno Fernandes who would be the central attacking midfielder at no.10 and constantly partnered with Ronaldo in a dynamic attack. In this fashion, the onus of scoring will not be burdened by Ronaldo alone.
Moreover, factoring in the star’s age as well as his compatriot’s breakthrough brilliance at Old Trafford, such a shape would make the best use of all available options under Solskjaer’s disposal.
Further still, with the Scott McTominay-Fred midfield pivot below the attacking front, and Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford making the wings, the ethos of total football would be best incorporated here. The obvious absence, however, is Paul Pogba’s inclusion after Rashford’s recovery from operation given that the Frenchman has been experimented in the front three as of recent.
3. Ronaldo at Left in a 4-3-3
This style makes sense for the immediate future factoring in Rashford’s recovery period. Here, Sancho would retain his right-wing spot while Edinson Cavani will be deployed as the more reliable striking option rather than Martial. Thus, Ronaldo would bring a specialist approach to the left wing without disrupting the style all too much.
Fernandes would continue to create a threat from the middle of the part although yet again Pogba’s resurgent form has the tendency to break apart the McFred midfield partnership.
Along the same lines, Pogba and Fernandes can certainly dip in and out of the creative 10 role in the previous formation, leaving this specific style as a go-to option when both Cavani’s clinical positioning and Ronaldo’s dynamic potential to create threat from the sides and break apart the opposition’s defense is needed.
All in all, no one-size-fits-all approach will suit a player of Ronaldo’s caliber and a roster of United’s range.
As such, Solskjaer will have to be deft at aping what Pep Guardiola did to critical acclaim last campaign – constantly reinventing his starting lineup across the season and even changing things about close to the half-time or sixty-minute mark such that none of these high-intensity athletes are lost to fatigue.
Simply put, if Ronaldo or Fernandes are ever deployed in cup-fixtures, then a sustained Champions League run will be threatened.