Scenes of our new recruit linking up with Elite French midfielder to set up and score incredible goals is something that has crossed the minds of all the fans. However, 2+2 need not always be 4 is what life especially in recent times following Manchester United has taught us. Whispers suggest Bruno is Pogba’s replacement. He has just seven League appearances courtesy of a persistent ankle injury. It is not yet known when he will return . Hopefuls like me choose to believe the contrary. That for the first time in many years this will be a potent midfield partnership. One packed with drive, assists and goals. Even the worst cant come true until the summer transfer window opens. So allow me to reverie on how best the World Cup winner and the Euro Nations League winner can turn the heat up at Old Trafford.
Fernandes played as a free 8 in a 433 or a 10 in a 4231 for Sporting Lisbon. Confident in possession with an eye for the killer pass and tenacious in winning the ball back. It would seem obvious that he slides into the No.10 role, like against Chelsea.
Paul Pogba mostly featured as a defensive midfielder followed by criticism of his lack of responsibility in possession and reluctance to track back in times of need. His record for France suggests that he’s better suited as a free 8 with adequate defensive cover to go do his thing. Boy do we know he’s good when he starts doing his thing. Fragile defence in behind and substandard midfield partners have led to him playing slightly out of position. This has stemmed his form and has loudened the noises of his imminent departure. Raiola’s comments dragging the saga to a new low.
A popular criticism with technical players is their lack of quality in defensive transition especially in the Premier League. When they lose the ball, they don’t react quickly enough to win it back. However, a striking characteristic of Fernandes is his desire to win back the ball and work in a defensive shape. This makes him different from the normal creative midfielders. So in that aspect, for what Pogba lacks, Bruno makes up.
Pair of 8s
According to Carlos Carvalhal, former Sporting boss, Fernandes operates best in a deep-lying role, rather than just behind the strikers. He is a “box-to-box player” with the “ability to break the line of the defence”, he added. The 25-year-old started the Wolves match at the top of the midfield. He dropped deeper in the second half in order to dictate the pace of the match. This also shows that Ole is fast tracking trying him out in different roles before he makes one his own. Bruno however played as a 10 against Chelsea.
BUT you would have to play them with someone who could do the defensive work in behind. McTominay last season was brilliant in this capacity and Fred this season has surprised everybody with his renaissance. Matic lately has been clinical as well. So ideally it would seem the pair of free 8s in behind with a clinical 6 would be perfect in a 433 going forward.
Goals from Midfield
We have to go all the way back to the Scholes era to find a player who had opponents panicking whenever the ball fell to his feet outside the box. The current injury crisis has glaringly exposed how United have missed a consistent goalscoring midfielder with both the courage and the ability to shoot from distance in recent years. Even though Pogba has provided the occasional glimmer of hope and Matic has managed it just about once in a blue moon.
Fernandes loves shooting from distance. He provided 15 goals in 26 games for the after previously scoring 33 goals across 56 matches last season. He registered 180 shots in the Portuguese league in the last couple of seasons. 114 of them were from outside the box!
Pogba is also a versatile natural forward thinking midfielder. Quite known for his late runs into the box and shots from outside the box. He’s at his most dangerous when linking up with one touches and players around. His occasional line breaking passes to the fast running forward men illustrate his obvious goal scoring threat.
The Low Block Conundrum
The Red Devils have been impressive against teams who attack like Chelsea this weekend them but have failed miserably against sides who sit deep at the back. This is where Pogba X Fernandes could be vital. The Portuguese managed 10 passes into the box against Wolves, which was the highest among the United players in the game also creating 3 chances and assisting a goal against Chelsea. So settling back into a defensive midfield role would give him additional space and help add one more player into the attack that could be Pogba pushing on or vice versa helping successfully unlock the defensive organisations. A 4321 would seem appropriate in this case.
“It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against and his mentality and character is the best thing about him.”, said Bernardo Silva welcoming his fellow country man to the League. Fernandes’ reputation of being a leader and wearing the heart on his sleeve precedes him. Thrown straight into the thick of things with only two days spent in Manchester after his move from Portugal, Bruno gave a telling reminder of his qualities against Wolves and opened his account against Chelsea. He constantly had to usher his teammates into correct positions and orchestrate proceedings without any luck, but it was in fact a huge sign of his leadership qualities.
We’ve all seen Pogba’s World Cup final video clip of riling up his teammates to give their best. Mourinho despite his on field criticism has always hailed Pogba’s “top mentality”. Ole has been constantly acknowledging the Frenchman’s professionalism while the media have been burning the midnight oil in sharpening the pitchforks. So a bunch of talented leaders running the midfield would be a dream come true for the fans who have seen Keane and Scholes own the pitch.
Set Piece Conversion
In 2019, despite Ole’s denial, the stats suggest United went 256 days without a goal from a direct free kick or a corner. An achievement that finally unlocked itself against Chelsea, courtesy classic Maguire header. This season, the team has used 11 corner kick takers, most in the league. With the likes of Maguire, Rashford in the ranks, the team should be doing better but the absence of a designated set piece taker might have been a reason. Bruno Fernandes loves his crosses and and Pogba loves his runs. Crosses towards players making opportunistic runs towards the back post and clinical set piece conversion could be key to United making top four.
United have endured a tough season and are seventh in the League table. Hopes remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League. Pogba’s arrival was dubbed as a catalyst for the side to roll back its glory years. Now Bruno is hailed as the catalyst for a new look rebuild. If history and logic serve us right, one player can’t do it all by himself. They both possess undoubted quality and can form the perfect launchpad for United to kick on. The right recruitments coupled with a reasonable amount of time together, this partnership to my mind is fire.
HEALTH WARNING : Pogba is not the devil to all our evils. Likewise Bruno can’t be the solution to all our problems. Also yes I’m aware that Pogba might leave but the world runs on hope.