Manchester United have been rocked by the unfortunate news that Paul Pogba is set to miss the next few matches as a result of an injury sustained against Everton.
“Paul is still out,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said ahead of facing West Brom this weekend, with the United boss suggesting that he’ll miss ‘a few weeks’ recently.
United will be disappointed to lose the French midfielder, especially given the recent form that he was showcasing, but the news could signify a boost in form for one of the key men at Old Trafford.
Strangely, Bruno Fernandes seems to post stronger performance numbers without Pogba in the team. The Portuguese has become integral to United’s game since arriving from Sporting CP last January, and he seems to thrive especially when he’s valued as the main man.
When Pogba doesn’t feature, Fernandes is typically deployed ahead of the functional midfield pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay; he’s afforded protection behind him and there’s a greater emphasis on him to make the difference at the business end of the field.
Some players would struggle with such a burden, but 26 year-old seems to take the responsibility in his stride. The sample size at hand is small, but it is interesting nevertheless.
Fernandes has played 610 minutes of Premier League football as a starter this season with Pogba starting from the bench, compared to 1,088 minutes alongside Pogba as a starter (excluding the recent contest with Everton).
As a result of the difference in minutes, totals would not usually suffice and per 90 minutes stats would have to be used to paint an accurate and fair picture, but Fernandes’ numbers are so much better across the board without Pogba that totals can be used this time around.
With Pogba, Fernandes has scored three goals for United with all of those originating from the penalty spot, whereas without him, he’s scored as many as nine, including another three penalties.
The Portuguese international is six goals better off despite playing around 400 minutes less on his own, which is quite notable.
Fernandes also shoots more often without Pogba, having posted 33 attempts with him and 34 without him, which equates to around 2.7 shots per 90 compared to five shots per 90.
The difference is stark, and it is similar in the creative department.
Fernandes has registered two assists with Pogba, with six without him, and he’s more involved on the attacking side of the game.
Per Statsbomb’s shot-creating actions metric – which covers the two offensive actions directly leading to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls – Fernandes averages around 4.8 shot-creating actions per 90 with Pogba compared to six per 90 without him.
He even touches the ball more often, averaging 76.7 touches per 90 when deployed with the Frenchman compared to 95.9 per 90 when he’s without him.
Context around the numbers is certainly required as every single match and opponent is different, but they are odd and should be followed more closely with time.
Perhaps it is simply a case of Fernandes being presented with a greater slice of the attacking pie whenever Pogba is benched or absent given the offensive qualities of the French international, but it bodes well for the former as he prepares to face 19th-placed West Brom on Sunday.