No Manchester United signing in recent memory has managed to have quite the instant impact that Bruno Fernandes has had on the club.
The Portuguese international has been in Manchester less than two months and yet, he already looks head and shoulders above the rest in the side, establishing himself as being one of the first names on the team sheet.
With three goals and four assists in his opening nine games, Fernandes has added some real quality to United inside the final third. It’s not just his stats that have been impressive though, but also the midfielder’s attitude and vocal presence, with the ex-Sporting Lisbon captain looking like a role model to his new team-mates on the field.
Not even the most optimistic United fans could have predicted the midfielder to have this level of influence so early on in his Old Trafford career, with some left asking why Paul Pogba has not yet managed to replicate a similar impact.
Such comparisons are rather unfair, as the Portuguese international has arrived in a more solid setup, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recognising his strongest starting eleven. As opposed to playing each player off each other, fans should start looking ahead to the future, on how a Pogba and Fernandes partnership in the middle could actually work.
Since his return to Old Trafford, the Frenchman’s role in the side has been a complicated one. The 27-year-old has been expected to be a playmaker, a defensive midfielder and a goalscorer, being shoehorned into various positions in a team that has been going through one transition after another since his arrival.
Under Solskjaer though, United have maintained a more balanced look to their side, settling on a preferred formation that is deployed week in, week out. Spearheading the two sitting midfielders, Fernandes has settled as the number ten, popping up in advanced positions to get the side onto the front foot. It’s a role that has helped push United further up the field, with the team now having more options inside the final third.
We have seen glimpses of Pogba in such a position, but he often tends to dictate play down the left channel, operating more as a box to box midfielder. The Frenchman is able to drive forward or sit deep and dictate, a position that could compliment his new teammate. Fernandes has showed his positive movement off the ball, drifting in-between the lines – the type of runner that helps create room for Pogba to move into.
If Solskjaer can slightly shift their January signing to the right, their midfield trio could start to take shape as an attacking triangle. With one defensive midfielder anchoring, Pogba and Fernandes would hold responsibilities on their opposing channels, helping create an equally balanced attack to the Red Devils’ offensive line.
Both players actually share traits on the ball, with both midfielders continuously looking to shift the ball forward and release their fellow front-runners. The likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will benefit from such a mindset, as both forwards are most dangerous when attacking space in-behind.
When returning from injury, Pogba will be re-entering a much more settled United team, with each individual finally understand their role and responsibilities in the side. Fernandes has been a recruit that has helped transform United’s attacking shape and both he and the Frenchman have the potential to form a very special partnership, in the middle at Old Trafford.