Manchester United have nine games to prove they are serious contenders again next season. And that could mean Paul Pogba has to wait for a recall after injury. Before lockdown, United went 11 games unbeaten, with eight wins. They scored 29 goals and conceded twice. Top four and two trophies are still within their grasp.
There were some key factors to that run. Scott McTominay came back for a chunk of it, and with Nemanja Matic and Fred in there, they were solid in midfield. They had legs, energy and power.
Bruno Fernandes has come into the mix, adding creativity and backing himself to be the man to make things happen.
Now Pogba is fit again and ready to play, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to get the balance right. If Pogba is fit and Fernandes is fit, ideally you’d want both to play. But I’d bring him back in gradually.
Solskjaer has to find a fine balance. With Marcus Rashford and Pogba back he has a serious line-up in his grasp to win these next nine games and get back in the top four.
They have got themselves into a great position. I would never worry about bringing Rashford straight in. He is fantastic.
But the Pogba question needs care. Solskjaer has some superstar talent and a couple of dogs in there who are prepared to do whatever it takes to play for United.
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They needed that ability to say to Fernandes: go and be creative. Or to Anthony Martial and Daniel James: we will do the work back here so you can get forward.
Will Pogba come in and say: “Hang on, I am the creative element. Me and Fernandes?” Then you can get unbalanced defensively, and they could be getting in each other’s way. It could create problems where you didn’t have any. I am a massive Pogba fan and always have been. In this case Solskjaer would be stupid to ignore what Fred, McTominay and Matic have done for him this year.
When Solskjaer was at his weakest, and Man U were at their weakest, there was talk of when the manager would go. That midfield three stood up and took everything in their stride in massive games. They made sure their team were in games and stayed in games and got big results.
Change the balance of that a tiny bit with a wrong ingredient and it goes again. Unfortunately, as good a player as he is, that might be Pogba. He might just not fit with the work ethic in that midfield.
Pogba is the best midfielder they have but Ole owes his other midfielders. They deserve to start games until they are not good enough. Then bring Pogba in.
Bruno Fernandes is better than I thought he was.
I am always sceptical of players coming in from Portugal because the style is so different and it takes time to adapt from quite passive league.
Fernandes has arrived in the Premier League and made it look easier than where he was.
He has walked into Manchester United and looked around the dressing room and thought: “I am the main man here. I am taking free-kicks, I’m going to make the passes.”
That mentality will make him a big player at United for a long time.