José Mourinho’s squad for the FA Cup 5th round tie at Huddersfield certainly turned heads for the exclusion of Paul Pogba from both the starting 11 and the bench. The backpages had been littered with rumors of everything from the French midfielder’s possible unhappiness to an apparent move to Real Madrid (how original). Regardless, the persistent news was the desire for Mourinho to experiment with a 4-3-3. Pundits and writers alike seem to side with the opinion that the formation would allow Pogba more room to operate in an attacking role.
Come Saturday afternoon the 4-3-3 was sure enough used, but instead of Pogba, it was Romelu Lukaku who truly benefited from the change.
The past few losses United have suffered were largely due to stagnant attacking play that limited the mobility and effectiveness of Lukaku. The Belgian marksman has been crowded, pushed out of position, and even cut off from play entirely for periods of play. The cup match was a different story.
Lukaku was a force to be reckoned with in Yorkshire, scoring twice on the day. With a midfield 3 and two wide attackers he had room to run, and run he did. Both of his goals involved running onto great through passes from the two wingers, Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez, for the first and second goals, respectively.
The space created allowed for much better wing play, as evidenced by the assists for Lukaku, and saw a terrific goal from Juan Mata, which was disallowed controversially by the Video Assistant Referee (an incident that warrants its own article).
Regardless of the VAR’s best efforts, United took full control early in the second half, and left the rest of the match to test the abilities of backup keeper Sergio Romero.
Whether Mourinho will test Pogba in the 4-3-3 in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie against Sevilla remains to be seen, but the success of the formation and Lukaku against Huddersfield should not be discounted. Pogba and Lukaku have undeniable chemistry in the attack, but work best together when the midfield battle is under control behind Pogba. Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera or Scott McTominay could provide that for him.