Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

Man Utd

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Man United can give Fernandes a new role to get the best from Pogba

3 min read

There’s an irony in Manchester United’s squad being short of depth, though at the same time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can introduce an £89million World Cup winner as an impact sub twice this week.

Against Newcastle and Paris St-Germain Paul Pogba has come on for the final quarter with United drawing and left the field with victory secured. Arguably his three best performances this season have all come when he’s been a substitute.

The Frenchman played a crucial role in his 23-minute cameo at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday night as United beat PSG in the Champions League, and that came just three days after he played 21 minutes against Newcastle and again tilted the game in the favour of Solskjaer’s side.

Pogba’s performances from the start in a deep midfield role have been disappointing this season and he could have no complaints when he was dropped at St James’ Park. But this week he’s played 44 minutes for United and they’ve scored four goals without conceding in that time.

Add in his goalscoring display off the bench against Brighton in the Carabao Cup and Pogba’s record as a sub reads 65 minutes played, in which United have scored six and not conceded. That’s what you call an impact sub.

The problem when players are proving so decisive off the bench is that they force their way into the starting line-up and then prove less effective. But the pattern with Pogba is that he’s started games as a deep-lying midfielder this season and has come on in games in a far more advanced role.

Pogba has struggled to exert his authority on United’s midfield from that deep role and he’s given his back four no protection either, which is not a good combination. But off the bench, and especially against Newcastle and PSG, he has been given licence to play closer to the attack and his quality has shone through.

This is where Pogba wants to play and where he is at his best. He was superb against PSG, setting up Marcus Rashford’s winner and controlling United’s attack from his advanced midfield role slightly to the left. He had a similar impact in the late charge against Newcastle at the weekend.

Solskjaer’s problem is that he is only using one player in that role and now has Bruno Fernandes, Pogba and Donny van de Beek competing for it. You lose the attacking threat of Fernandes if he drops into a deeper role and it seems clear Solskjaer doesn’t trust Van de Beek with a deeper role yet, given the cast of midfielders who have started ahead of him in that position this season.

So there is no easy solution to getting the best players on the pitch at the moment. Leaving Pogba as an impact sub is one possibility and the 27-year-old’s agitation to leave Old Trafford makes that an easier decision to make with a record signing.

But if United can get the best out of the World Cup winner, then he can make a difference and this weekend might present Solskjaer with the opportunity to try Fernandes and Pogba in the same side and in advanced positions.

With Anthony Martial suspended and Edinson Cavani still short of match fitness, Rashford is likely to lead the line once again. That leaves his left-wing berth open and while Daniel James played well in that position at Newcastle, Solskjaer could play Fernandes in a position off the left, with Pogba central and Juan Mata on the right.

Once James was replaced by Van de Beek at Newcastle last weekend it was the Dutchman and Fernandes who took turns operating on the left and both can play that role and drift infield, just as Mata does on the opposite flank. It’s a change that would allow Solskjaer to get Fernandes and Pogba playing closer to the opposition penalty area.

With Martial only missing two more Premier League games and Cavani set to play a part in the next couple of weeks it might only be a temporary solution, but with both players in fine form this week, it could work well against Chelsea.

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