Media speculation that the two players will struggle to play together intensified recently following United’s friendly 2-1 defeat to Championship side West Bromwich Albion. The duo played together as the midfield pairing, which doesn’t exactly inspire hope, but Fernandes scored and missed a penalty – and it was a friendly after months without football.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is rumoured to be sticking with his 4-2-3-1 formation for the start of Premier League action, and with McTominay and Fred finding form before the break in play, it suggests that one of Fernandes or Pogba will play further forward than the other. So, how do the two superstar midfield players fit in this system?
Knowing the strengths of each player, this formation could give Solskjaer the opportunity to mix up his tactical approach. Pogba will likely be deployed in a deeper role, next to the other holding midfielder whilst Fernandes plays as the ‘no.10’ behind the striker – but you could have the two overlap each other due to each’s ability to attack and defend. This is not to say that they will clash, but the inter-changeable ability – Pogba’s attacking intuition and Fernandes’ defensive mentality – means that the Red Devils could throw off opposition defenders and attackers alike.
It appears that Pogba is destined to slip into that midfield place, and embrace a box-to-box role. His ability to pass the ball effectively should not be disregarded, and his passing accuracy is at 83.2% this season compared to Fernandes’ 72.1%. This is interesting, but doesn’t completely claim that the Frenchman is better with the ball at his feet than his Portuguese colleague – it suggests that Fernandes plays riskier passes as he thrives in the final third of the pitch. The former-Sporting man is also more inclined to shoot on a regular basis, averaging 3.6 shots per 90 minutes compared to Pogba’s 2.2, and his pre-break form has seemingly earned Fernandes the role behind the striker.
With Fernandes behind the chosen forward and Pogba next to McTominay or Fred, United would appear to be at their strongest. Both players should – and more than likely, will – be given a large amount of freedom in Solskjaer’s system to close out the season. United have quality players in many positions around the field, but as the season draws to a close, it becomes increasingly likely that the Red Devils’ push for the UEFA Champions League will come down to how these two world-class talents perform together.
By Andrew Gamble