Bruno Fernandes has left little room for Paul Pogba at Manchester United

Paul Pogba’s Man Utd future is in serious doubt; Bruno Fernandes is their main man now. Watch Manchester United vs Manchester City live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 5pm on Saturday; Kick-off 5.30pm

It was in a Manchester derby that Paul Pogba produced the most memorable performance of his Manchester United career, scoring twice to inspire the 3-2 comeback win in April 2018 which delayed Manchester City’s coronation as Premier League champions.

But when the two sides meet again at Old Trafford on Saturday, two-and-a-half years on from those heroics at the Etihad Stadium, Pogba is not even guaranteed a place in the side. “He needs to change team,” announced Mino Raiola, his agent, on Monday. If the writing was not already on the wall, then it surely is now.

Pogba’s return to Manchester United from Juventus in 2016 was a blockbuster story which was met with a deluge of coverage and a frenzy of excitement. The one that got away. Back again.

And for a world-record £89m transfer fee too.

The hope, the expectation, was that Pogba would help restore the club to its former glories. But plainly it has not worked out that way.

In the last four seasons, United have finished an average of 27 points off the top of the Premier League. Pogba has had his moments – in fact his record is far better than many would have you believe – but those lofty expectations have not been fulfilled.

There was friction with Jose Mourinho and he has since slipped out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too.

It was hoped the signing of Bruno Fernandes in January would benefit him. Speaking on Sky Sports in July, his friend and former team-mate Patrice Evra insisted Pogba had welcomed the arrival of another “big player” who would share United’s creative burden.

But instead of taking the pressure off Pogba, Fernandes has taken his place in the team. The 26-year-old has been a revelation, scoring or assisting 37 goals in 39 appearances since his debut in February.

His transformative second-half impact against West Ham on Saturday underlined the side’s dependency on him.

Pogba had a role in that victory too, of course, his superb strike, from a Fernandes pass, no less, paving the way for the result that followed. But as Jamie Carragher noted on Monday Night Football, he was only in the team because others were rested. His positive impact against RB Leipzig three days later came from the bench.

Pogba has been forced deeper since the arrival of Fernandes in the No 10 role

Since Fernandes’s arrival at Old Trafford at the end of the January transfer window, the statistics show Pogba has created fewer chances, attempted fewer shots, and had considerably fewer touches in the opposition box than before, instead required to sit back and provide cover for his new team-mate and United’s front three.

It is not his natural game – positional discipline has never been Pogba’s strong point – and it is what Raiola was alluding to earlier this week when he said his client is unable to “express himself like he wants to and like people expect him to” under Solskjaer.

Pogba and Fernandes have, of course, combined effectively in the last two games. But both came in desperate circumstances, when United were forced to go for broke having fallen behind.

Pogba’s attacking influence has declined since Fernandes’s arrival

They were also on the winning side together six times in the latter stages of last season. But what’s more pertinent is that three of the last four Premier League games the duo have started – against Arsenal, Tottenham and Crystal Palace – have ended in defeat, with 10 goals conceded and only two scored.

United were overrun in midfield in each of those games, and while some would like to see Pogba and Fernandes operate in tandem with one holder behind them, as Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva did so successfully with Fernandinho during Manchester City’s title-winning 2017/18 season, there is a reason why it hasn’t happened.

“Over a long season it might be that they get a run of games together,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports last week.

“But then you’ve got Nemanja [Matic], Scott [McTominay] and Fred, and the balance they can give you…” Pogba offers a side many things. But defensive balance is not one of them.

Pogba is now playing a deeper role, rarely venturing as far as the opposition box

Solskjaer has tried to find a solution to his midfield conundrum. He experimented with a diamond to good effect in United’s home game against RB Leipzig in October, with Pogba on the left-hand side, the presence of both Matic and Fred giving him greater licence to get forward as he helped them to a 5-0 victory.

But the United boss has not returned to the system since it came unstuck against Arsenal only a few days later.

Pogba was poor in that game, conceding the decisive penalty when he fouled Hector Bellerin in the second half, an incident which neatly encapsulated the lack of defensive focus which becomes more of an issue the deeper he plays.

“You’ve got to have discipline in those roles,” noted Carragher when discussing the subject on Monday Night Football earlier this season, the implication being that Pogba does not.

The Frenchman heads into Saturday’s derby having made a positive impact in successive games for the first time in a long time. Another starring display like the one he produced in April 2018 might change the narrative again. But the reality is that as long as Fernandes is around, Pogba is likely to remain a Manchester United misfit.

A parting of ways looks inevitable now.


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