A prominent question has been answered since Manchester United resumed action – can Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes play together? It was a query that both midfielders have passed with flyings colours, with the duo transforming the side’s transitional play inside the final third.
Although we have only seen Pogba and Fernandes on the field together on four occasions, such doubts over their ability to perform in the same XI now look very premature. The two midfielders have complimented each other, with the Frenchman dictating but pushing on when required, allowing the latter to maintain a high position inside the pockets.
For the dynamic duo to work though, they have required a steady anchor in-behind. Pogba and Bruno have inevitably made the headlines with their creativity and flair, helping contribute to nine goals in four games together, but we mustn’t overlook the influence of Nemanja Matic in-behind.
The Serbian has also answered a widespread question amongst the United fan-base, who were speculating over who should be trusted to be the lead anchor of this new midfield three. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has opted for Matic in the two games where Pogba and Bruno have started together, performing impeccably in both.
In comparison to Scott McTominay and Fred, the 31-year-old did always look the most likely on paper to occupy such a position. He boasts more experience in operating as a holding midfielder, whilst not having such a large tendency to progress forward, like the former two. Positional discipline is the most integral factor when it comes to anchoring the midfield, particularly when we consider that both Pogba and Bruno’s best work comes inside the final third.
The two creators have been granted a licence to break forward, allowing the offensive front three to maintain a high position up-top. This has restricted the need for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to drop deep to see the ball, as they now have creative sources behind them, feeding their runs and finding them in more dangerous positions.
United’s transitioning has looked significantly sharper since the re-introduction of Pogba, but it has been Matic’s presence in the middle that has allowed such attacking firepower to be let loose.Embed from Getty Images
He impressed against Sheffield United, with the Red Devils dominating the lion share of possession at 68%. The Serbian was disciplined in maintaining a deeper position, providing his services with a routine vintage performance. Matic registered a 96% pass completion rate, the highest of any starter on the night. Against a weekend Blades side, the midfielder rarely had to get out of second gear.
Although this type of cameo is never going to make the back headlines, such positional sacrifices benefit the team in ways individual stats cannot measure. Matic’s stern and robust manner is what has given him the nod over Fred and McTominay, who have rarely been tasked with the sole role as the holder in their careers.
Against Brighton, the Serbian yet again prevailed. Away from home, his defensive duties were tested a little more, with the Seagulls clustering the middle of the park with their 3-5-2 setup. Despite coming up against two baller carriers in Davy Pröpper and Yves Bissouma, no player completed a dribble past Matic.
The 31-year-old completed 2/2 tackles and also played a crucial ball through to Mason Greenwood, who laid on Fernandes for United’s third goal on the night. Only Harry Maguire made more passes than Matic, but the latter’s 93% pass completion rate ranked him highest out of the side’s starters.
So composed in the middle of the park, the Serb just makes it look like business as usual. This is perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay to a holding midfielder, as the best in this role simply let the game be played be in-front of them. Matic has performed exceptionally since occupying such a position, with the team certainly feeling the knock-on benefits.