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Picking the ultimate Manchester United 5-a-side team

If United had to play a 5-a-side tournament to decide the season, who would you pick?

Illustration by Nathan Heintschel

The Premier League reportedly remains committed to finishing the 2019/20 season, one way or another. Although the idea of voiding the season in full has been floated, there seems to be little appetite for that. Instead, the likeliest outcome seems to be some version of a condensed mini-season where the remaining games are all played behind closed doors. When that will even safely become a possibility, how it will work in conjunction with the other remaining competitions — both in England and Europe — and the wisdom of doing any of this at all, remains to be seen.

In the meantime though, there’s nothing to stop us from wildly speculating about how the season might be concluded. The most fun idea that has been touted is to replace the remaining league fixtures with a 5-a-side tournament. This idea is brilliant. It would require much more limited logistical planning compared to playing in empty stadiums across the country, it would be incredibly entertaining for fans at home, and it is so batshit crazy that it has absolutely no chance of actually happening in real life.

BUT. If it did happen, who would you choose to represent Manchester United in a 5-a-side tournament? The dynamics of small goal football are very different to the standard game, and therefore picking your best team for this format is not as simple as choosing your five best players. Our writers made their picks. Agree? Disagree? What would your teams look like? Let us know in the comments below.

Team Naterade

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelöf, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood

Without sounding like a high school coach in an American sports drama, I want to see hustle, and I want to see heart. I’ve chosen guys that have the talents to outwork their opponents and win during one-on-one duels in a smaller five-a-side arena.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I want to break from a typical lineup and play a more progressive/aggressive style — which you may have noticed looking at my lineup. I’m not fielding a traditional goalkeeper because the current crop of United goalkeepers are not as good at playing the ball like say Allison or Ederson. Instead, I want my “goalkeeper” to also play the role of distributor and play further up the pitch when the team has possession. Therefore, I’m going to lean on the athleticism of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and distribution abilities of Victor Lindelöf to take care of my defense and initiate my offense.

In the attack, I’ve got Fred, Bruno Fernandes, and Mason Greenwood because I want dudes with technical ball skills, the ability to thread a forward pass and high motors who will chase (not jog) back on defense. In a confined pitch, I expect Fred’s heat map to be the entire field while Fernandes will bring an edge as well in defensive duties. However, the moment the team retakes possession, I’m relying on the midfielders to get the ball to our natural-born finisher, Greenwood. I trust Greenwood to find the back of the goal in the tight angles and windows afforded in a five-a-side pitch. And when Greenwood invites extra defensive pressure, I know Fernandes will make the correct run into space for the easy chance.

Go ahead and give us the trophy, now please! - NH

The (Colin) Damms United

David De Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial

Above all in a 5-a-side team I want players who do well in close proximity, and despite a lack of flair, this team has got a ton of 5-star skill players.

De Gea in goal is maybe a risk, as his distribution skills are definitely the weakest part of his game, but he makes a lot of saves with his feet and his reflexes outmatch anyone in the game. Wan-Bissaka in front of him doesn’t give the defense a lot of strength, but there’s not been a better shutdown defender one on one in the Premier League this season, and his speed and improvement on the ball make him the best choice of United’s defenders.

The midfield is where things get really fun. Pogba and Bruno haven’t yet played together, but their individual skill and playmaking ability make them undroppable in this sort of scenario. Round it off with Tony up top, who beats out Rashford only due to the fact that his dribbling ability has always been there, and for that filthy goal he scored against Watford. - CD

Pauly’s At the Wheel

David De Gea, Victor Lindelöf, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood

Five-a-side footy is all about speed and being able to play in close proximity. It’s not so much about strength and certainly not about aerial ability. Considering those are Lindelöf’s weaknesses, it’s almost like he was made for five-a-side footy.

Lindelöf has been fantastic in one on one situations this year. Obviously he hasn’t been better than Wan-Bissaka, but the other thing about five-a-side: transitions are key. As soon as you win the ball back you need to start your attack. Wan-Bissaka leaves his feet too often to be effective in that regard, so Lindelöf gets the nod.

Paul Pogba has the quickest feet of anyone at United. He can pick out any pass, he can shoot, and he can tackle. He’s a no brainer. Next to him, we’re dropping Anthony Martial a bit back to his winger days. He’s going to have to help out defensively but his finishing ability, hold up play, and ability to dribble in tight spaces make him undroppable here. Not to mention he has fantastic chemistry with Pogba.

Martial also has been developing great chemistry with Bruno Fernandes, but in a last minute switch he’s been dropped for Greenwood for one simple reason. Finishing. It’s five-a-side; just put the ball in the net. No one does that better than Mason.

Like Nathan, I was leaning towards fielding a non-traditional goalkeeper because the small nets and fewer crosses means being a good shot stopper is the most important attribute. Then if you’re good with your feet when in possession you can use your goalkeeper to even up the playing field.

But ultimately De Gea gets the nod because shot stopping is his thing. Plus with two strikers on the pitch my team may be lacking a bit defensively and you’d prefer to have a good goalkeeper there as insurance. De Gea’s distribution isn’t that bad either, it’s just not as good as the really high standard we’ve become accustomed to in the past few years. - PK

Maximin Overdrive

David De Gea, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood

Let me start by saying that defending in five-a-side is for cowards.

Remember how Paul Pogba shone for France at the World Cup playing as a deep-lying midfielder? How he’s shown that he can dominate games from a holding role with his passing and intelligence? Right. This is like that, but on PEDs. Pogba at center-back. José Mourinho is reading this from his couch in London, fully aroused.

The smaller pitch means that my two best footballers — Pogba and Bruno Fernandes — are still a goal threat, despite being further from the goal. And to mop up behind them when they foray forward (and they definitely will — this team is going to need to score 8 goals a game to win), I’ve opted for David De Gea.

If you want a goalkeeper who will spook opposition players by shouting constantly (we’ve all played with those types), then Romero is your man. If you want a ‘keeper who will know his place and not try to dribble up the pitch (we know those types too), then I guess there’s Lee Grant. But let’s not overthink it. De Gea is a world class shot-stopper, and he’s the best at saving with his feet that most of us have ever seen. If he had his best ever season playing behind Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, imagine how good he’ll be playing behind no defenders at all.

Up front, we need skill in tight spaces, finishing, and two-footedness. There’s no room in this team for players who fluff their lines or who always need to check back on to their “good” foot. Mason Greenwood isn’t strong enough to lead the line, but that doesn’t matter in this format. He’s the most two footed player in the squad, and also the best finisher. Martial is perhaps the best dribbler, and we’re always hearing about the skill he shows off in training — well, it’s time to put that to good use. Plus, Tony will be raring to go after being stuck at home and unable to do evil commit adultery train. - BM