This article is taken from our recent Patreon video, which you can check out here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/advantages-of-35843618
Manchester United’s squad looks much healthier going into 20/21 than it did going into 19/20, with the acquisitions of Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes easing the workload on the centre forwards and giving the side an elite-level playmaker respectively. Man Utd have been in fine form since that impressive January haul; they’re unbeaten in all competitions and actually have the best goal difference in the Premier League (+7) since Fernandes made his debut on the 1st of February. However, this is football and nothing is ever simple! The immediate impact of Bruno Fernandes and his fairly similar skillset to Paul Pogba has got many people questioning whether they could ever really work together. This is what we’re going to be discussing today. First, though, we need to understand how Bruno Fernandes has changed how Man Utd play!
Arguably the most telling impact that the Portugal international has had so far is that he has massively improved the side’s ability to break the lines. We can see from the below images how Fernandes likes to position himself between the lines and usually wants to turn and play forward when he receives the ball – giving his side a consistent method of working the ball into the final third and creating overloads which they’d previously struggled to do; especially through the middle of the pitch. This particular move resulted in Man Utd breaking the deadlock via Ighalo.
The fact that Man Utd have somebody who specialises in dropping deep and turning in order to break the lines is great news for Paul Pogba – who often has been tasked with doing this as well as being expected to regularly contribute goals and assists. Fernandes and Pogba are both extremely intelligent footballers and when one drops in to support the build-up play, the other will know to stay in a more advanced position and push into the attacking line. We can see an example of a situation in which this could happen in the game vs. Club Brugge:
In this situation we see Bruno Fernandes drop back into the half-space and very much become the playmaker, patiently retaining possession and looking to create inroads before eventually providing the second assist pass for Mata to assist Ighalo. What’s key here is that Fernandes dropping back and looking to playmake would likely trigger Paul Pogba to make that advanced run and attack the six yard box. Likewise if Pogba was to take control of the ball and dictate things, Bruno could push onto the attacking line and look to get on the end of the ball. The fact that they are both multifaceted attacking midfielders is very much a good thing.
We can see another example of Bruno’s ability to identify and occupy vacated positions in order to maximise his effectiveness in the recent league game against Watford. Daniel James drops deep in order to create space in-behind, which is immediately seen by Fernandes – who moves over into that wide position. Man Utd ultimately won the penalty from Fernandes making that run in-behind.
We saw many positioned rotations between Fred and Bruno Fernandes in that Watford game, too, with one dropping between the lines and one pushing up. They dovetailed really nicely throughout that game and this is something you could definitely see Pogba doing too.
Obviously, if Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes were to play together there would be an abundance of creative midfield quality in the side for Man Utd. However, many people have questioned whether or not the pair can offer enough defensive stability. There are a few points to make here. Firstly, Bruno Fernandes is an exceedingly hard worker against the ball. His creativity and goal output from midfield misleads many to believe he’s a luxury player, but that just isn’t true. Fernandes has put in a ridiculous 8.8 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far. We can see in the image below his awareness when the ball is lost and how intently he looks to regain possession. Secondly, Man Utd have an excellent defence – having conceded just 30 goals and 30.56 expected goals against in the Premier League this season. United’s big problem across the majority of 19/20 has been struggling to create opportunities despite being solid at the back – they’re well set-up to accommodate two creative midfielders.
It’s also worth saying that playing behind a more free-roaming attacking midfielder isn’t exactly new to Paul Pogba. Under Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba was often deployed as a central midfielder with Jesse Lingard playing ahead of him in a more attacking role. In this situation, a large part of Paul Pogba’s responsibility would be cutting out passing lanes when the ball is lost. We can see an example of this below, as Lingard’s attempted carry turns the ball over and the Frenchman reacts by adjusting to cover the passing lane and forcing a poor pass out wide which gives the ball back to the away side and ultimately results in Man Utd taking an early lead.
One of the key things to point out here is that Paul Pogba has always worked well in those counter-attacking duos, given his excellent ability to carry the ball from deep. Jesse Lingard was often the man to carry those counters with Paul Pogba under Jose Mourinho and it could well be Bruno Fernandes under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. When Paul Pogba does cut out those passing lanes and help to recover the ball, his first thought is always to drive the ball forward and create a chance in transition. Below we can see an example of Lingard & Pogba taking up positions to launch a counter.
The final thing to mention here is that Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are both excellent long-range shooters. The key thing about this is that it means teams can’t really sit back in those low-blocks because they know Man Utd have two players who can threaten from range if given that kind of space – which of course means space should be easier to come by for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to operate in. Below are two screengrabs which illustrate the range from which Pogba & Fernandes can cause problems with their shooting.
To summarise, then: Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes CAN play together. The duo are both extremely intelligent and capable of being effective in both the middle and final third – meaning they should be able to dovetail well. They do have some stylistic similarities, but that is on the whole much more of a positive than a negative. Paul Pogba has plenty of experience of playing as the more attacking central midfielder behind a fully-fledged attacking midfielder, and so he should find it easy enough to slot in-behind Bruno Fernandes or indeed to play alongside him. Man Utd are trying to build a title-winning side and title-winning sides have multiple world class players – Fernandes and Pogba should definitely be seen as a solution rather than a problem.
If you want to find out more about how Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes can play together, checkout out the original video on YouTube: https://bit.ly/PogbaBrunoMUFC