Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told players returning to preseason training he wants to implement a more attacking 4-3-3 formation this season in a move that could spell the end for the midfield partnership of Fred and Scott McTominay, sources told ESPN.
Solskjaer is keen to include more of his attacking players in his starting XI on a regular basis and has discussed with players and staff about the possibility of using one defensive midfielder behind two more forward-thinking players.
Sources told ESPN that signing a new centre-back is key to the idea, with the club chasing a deal for Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.
Solskjaer paired Fred and McTominay together in midfield 28 times last season but the United boss is hopeful the new set-up will allow him to include Paul Pogba or Donny van de Beek alongside Bruno Fernandes more regularly. Pogba, who has one year left on his contract, and Van de Beek have been linked with moves away from Old Trafford this summer but United expect both to stay.
Fred and McTominay did not start the club’s first match of last season against one of the “Big Six” as both were left on the bench for the visit of Tottenham in October. But they both came on at 4-1 down at half time as United went on to suffer an embarrassing 6-1 defeat and from there, they started every match home and away against United’s main rivals (Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham) as Solskjaer’s side collected 11 points from those matches.
While Solskjaer has depended on the two players at key moments during his tenure, some sections of the club’s support have grown frustrated at a perceived over-reliance on the duo — nicknamed “McFred” owing to how often they come as a pair — and a lack of invention in attack, especially in matches where opposition teams have proven difficult to break down.
United have secured a deal with Borussia Dortmund for England winger Jadon Sancho and remain hopeful of adding a centre-back before the transfer deadline. Varane is a top target but sources told ESPN that United are having to be patient while Real Madrid and new manager Carlo Ancelotti, who will have to do without Sergio Ramos after his move to Paris Saint-Germain, attempt to convince the Frenchman to stay.
Varane has entered the last year of his contract and United have been made aware he would be willing to take up a new challenge at Old Trafford. Should Varane inform Real Madrid he has no intention of signing a new deal, it is expected the Spanish giants will look to open negotiations over a fee.
United are also interested in right-back Kieran Trippier but sources told ESPN they will not pay the release clause in his contract of more than €40 million and so far Atletico Madrid have shown no indication they are willing to compromise.