The France international looks set to leave Old Trafford in the summer, and the game against the Blues will show how the club can move on without him
Manchester United take on Chelsea on Monday evening with the chance to show how the team might shape up next season, with Paul Pogba still out of the side and looking nailed on to depart this summer.
The 26-year-old midfielder remains in rehabilitation after electing to have ankle surgery over the winter, and there is no indication when he will be fit enough to return to action.
Pogba would like to be available for the tail-end of the campaign in order to get back to match fitness ahead of Euro 2020. However, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has effectively refused to confirm if the player will feature for United again, with no return date on the horizon.
The Norwegian was one of the few figures at United happy to consider the sale of Pogba last summer, with the caveat that any funds raised would be used to strengthen the squad.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s reluctance to give Zinedine Zidane his main midfield target, however, meant that Pogba was forced to stay put at Old Trafford for at least another campaign.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is now in agreement with Solskjaer. The club are willing to accept a bid of around £130 million ($170m) for the player in order to bring his underwhelming second spell at the club to an end.
There may be an element of pragmatism involved from Woodward. With the path to the Champions League unclear, both with the club’s poor form and the fallout from Manchester City’s proposed two-year European ban, there is little certainty that United will take part in the continent’s most important and lucrative competition next season.
Should United fail in their qualification pursuit then their finances will take a real hit. Some players may be sold in order to cut costs. A permanent deal for Chris Smalling will likely be agreed with Roma, Alexis Sanchez will again be offered up to anyone willing to take him, and other players may take the opportunity to move on.
If United do not have their usual financial might, then the sale of Pogba will allow United to raise funds to cover any underlying shortages. Shifting Pogba’s hefty wages off the salary costs will help as well.
United intend to bring Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to the club this summer, in a move that does not necessarily depend on Pogba’s exit. Indeed, United are likely to target another striker when Ighalo leaves at the end of his brief loan spell.
Nemanja Matic’s suspension means that United will likely use Bruno Fernandes in midfield with Fred and Andreas Pereira, with Martial, Ighalo and Daniel James a possible front three.
Shorn of Pogba, with one player to replace his creativity and another to offer superior effort through the middle, there are set to be hints of next season’s approach.
The club are preparing for life without Pogba and are putting the pieces in place – a new striker, a new midfielder and probably Grealish – for next season. Their visit to Stamford Bridge could demonstrate vague signs of a new and more constructive way forward.