Manchester United are hoping to take their defence up a level ahead of the 2021/22 season by working on deals to sign centre-back Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and right-back Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid.
Varane in particular is seen as a final piece of the puzzle for United defensively, with the French expected to be an upgrade on Victor Lindelof as a long-term partner for Harry Maguire.
The two new additions, should United be able to pull them off in the coming weeks, will offer not only depth for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to call on but also tactical flexibility.
The assumption is that Maguire and Varane would always feature together, fitness permitting or with the exception of mass rotation, and that a back-three would never feature fewer than two specialist centre-backs.
With that in mind, here’s a look out at United could line up defensively this season.
Solskjaer’s primary tactical system utilises a typical flat back four, affording him the freedom to make use of more midfielders and forwards further up the pitch.
But full-back depth would allow Solskjaer to mix things up should the situation call for it. That means Trippier, who offers more going forward, could come in for Wan-Bissaka. There is also the option for Telles to fill for Shaw on the left on occasion.
Wan-Bissaka (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LB)
Trippier (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LB)
Trippier (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Telles (LB)
Wan-Bissaka (RB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Telles (LB)
Solskjaer is no stranger to picking a system with three centre-backs, notably using it last season when United beat Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, and there are a number of different configurations that make such a setup both possible and attractive.
The third centre-back doesn’t have to be a specialist centre-back. It could be Lindelof joining Maguire and Varane, but for more flexibility and mobility asking either Shaw or Wan-Bissaka to tuck inside is also a strong option. Shaw has done that for United before and Wan-Bissaka is arguably better suited to being an auxiliary centre-back because his strength is defending over attacking.
Tripper operating as a wing-back outside Wan-Bissaka could be a great partnership on the right.
It is unlikely that Solskjaer would ever use both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw as centre-backs at the same time, unless forced to by injuries, but the latter has also shown fine acumen as a wing-back, having excelled there in the handful of games when England used a similar system at Euro 2020.
Wan Bissaka (RWB), Lindelof (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Wan-Bissaka (RWB), Varane (CB), Maguire (CB), Shaw (CB), Telles (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Lindelof (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Wan-Bissaka (CB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (LWB)
Trippier (RWB), Maguire (CB), Varane (CB), Shaw (CB), Telles (LWB)