Swagger And Flair – The Dawn Of A New Era At Manchester United



All the talks and anticipations for the last three months amongst the Manchester United supporters certainly revolved around two of their midfielders in Paul Labile Pogba and Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes. The Frenchman who re-signed for the club in the summer of 2016 has had a mixed stint with the red devils and has been sidelined for most parts of the ongoing season due to injury. As good as a player he is, Pogba has been fairly inconsistent with his performances drawing many critics questioning his attitude and commitment to the club. However, Bruno Fernandes has had an excellent start to his life in Manchester mustering up 4 goals and 4 assists in a relatively short space of time. He had a major impact on a struggling United which lacked any creativity in the midfield with Pogba being out injured. The performances of the Portuguese certainly had got many excited about a possible midfield partnership between the two, the first glimpse of which came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in which both players had a good game. It was followed up by an excellent display by the duo against Sheffield United in a comfortable 3-0 win over the Blades. However, the ongoing discussions are more about how the United midfield would look in the long term by fitting the two together.


Paul Pogba is an example of a typical number eight box to box midfielder although he’s more than comfortable playing in an advanced role. His strength and physique combined with his excellent vision and passing range makes him a perfect modern-day central midfielder. Bruno Fernandes has also operated in similar territories during his stint with Sporting Lisbon. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has mostly lined his team up in a 4-3-3 formation while also using a 3-4-3 formation against the bigger oppositions this season. Since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon, Fernandes has been deployed to play the furthest in the midfield three alongside Fred and Nemanja Matic where his ability to create chances could be utilized to the fullest. Fernandes mostly drifted out to a number-ten role during the game with the latter two playing behind. In the Premier League, he has provided 2 key passes per game while attempting an impressive 3.7 shots per game. The trio worked out well since most of the defensive duties were done by the deep lying midfield duo of Fred & Matic which allowed Fernandes to make an impact going forward and play with freedom. Fred has put up an excellent tacking rate of 2.2 per game while his midfield partner Nemanja Matic has averaged 1.8 tackles per game in the Premier League which shows their brilliance in the defensive side of things. Although as previously expected, on his return Pogba took the place of the Brazilian in the Manchester United midfield while Matic was given the nod ahead of Mctominay to continue shielding the defence, a job which he has perfected thus justifying the manager’s call.

The doubts over a midfield partnership with Pogba & Fernandes has always been concerned with the defensive aspect of the game. The question was whether the team could be caught defensively out of shape by playing two attack minded midfielders together in Pogba & Fernandes. That being said, Fernandes has averaged 1.9 tackles per game in the Premier League, a stat which proves that the Portuguese is a hardworking player on the pitch and comes back to defend when the team needs him to. However, this could limit his influence going forward since he’s tasked with both defending and creating chances at the other end. Although Nemanja Matic has been impressive playing as the lone defensive midfielder alongside the two, he could struggle against high pressing oppositions and find himself unable to cover up the entire pitch for the whole game which could leave spaces in behind that can be exploited, the sole reason for this concern being the Serbian’s age. Matic turns 32 in a couple of months time and could no longer have the legs to be the main destroyer week in week out. Although Scott Mctominay has been pretty good playing there, his natural position lies elsewhere and wouldn’t be the ideal fit for the team in the long run.

The best possible solution to sort things out would be to bring in a more young, mobile and tenacious defensive midfielder in the coming transfer windows. This would allow both Pogba and Fernandes have a significant impact on the game in the opposition half without added concerns of defensive responsibilities. Swiss international Denis Zakaria is a player who fits the bill and has the ability to take up the anchor role at Manchester United. The midfielder is currently enjoying a breakthrough season with Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga and could be set for a big move in the summer. He has a splendid 2.3 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game in all competition for the German side. At just 23 years of age, he could be the long-term solution to the club’s defensive midfielder problems. He should be available for a fee in the region below £50 million, which is value for money in the current market. Austrian midfielder Konrad Laimer who also plies his trade in Germany with Red Bull Leipzig could be a direct alternative to the Swiss. Laimer has operated in multiple midfield roles for Leipzig this season averaging a much superior 3.1 tackles per game and winning a combined total of 91 tackles in the Bundesliga, the most by any player in the competition. However, the few drawbacks with the Austrian includes his lack of discipline on the pitch and the tendency to commit fouls often.  Other alternatives would be Wilfred Ndidi from Leicester City or Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid. Partey is perhaps the most ready made answer to United’s holding midfielder vows with the Ghanaian enjoying a stellar campaign with Atletico Madrid. However, the latest reports suggest that he’s about to commit his future to the Spanish side and with the player turning 27, Solskjaer could look for younger options like Wilfred Ndidi. The Leicester City midfielder has been one of the best in his position averaging an enormous 3.8 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per game this season outperforming Ngolo Kante by some distance who has been coveted as the best holding midfielder in the world. As good as a destroyer he is, the Nigerian international is far less comfortable on the ball and wouldn’t be an ideal fit if the manager wants his team to start playing from the back. 

This gives Zakaria the edge over the Leicester City man who’s very good on the ball and is very comfortable playing for a Marco Rose’s side which mainly builds their attacks from the back using short passes. Adding to this would be the difficult task of negotiating a transfer fee with Leicester City and it would take a substantial bid to price him away from the Midlands. However, the pick between the two should mainly go down to the tactics Solskjaer would want to build this Manchester United team around. To sum things up, Manchester United have possibly the best midfield in the Premier League with Paul Pogba playing in his natural box to box role and Bruno Fernandes as the attacking midfielder. However, the final piece in the jigsaw is that of the holding midfielder which should be sorted out soon inorder to help the team start challenging for major honors in the coming seasons.

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