When the Premier League returns United fans will be eager to see how the midfield partnership between Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes pans out. On paper the duo have the potential to be English football’s most feared pairing, each offering plenty of goals alongside their vaunted creativity.
But with Ole Solskjaer preferring to play five across the middle, the battle to be United’s midfield enforcer will be fought by Scott McTominay and Fred. Some may argue Pogba won’t just walk back into the team, and they’ve got a point. But if he returns to anywhere near his best this year, it’s likely the fight for a central role will be fought by the Scot and the Brazilian.
Fred’s on form but McTominay gets first bite
Undeniably, Fred is enjoying his best season at Old Trafford, finally looking settled in Manchester and steeled for the physicality of the league. But it’s the Scottish international who’ll likely get the first chance to nail down a spot in the manager’s starting 11.
McTominay has also enjoyed something of a breakout year. United endured a string of poor results when he went down with injury but has since become a prominent fixture in Solskjaer’s team. While United will be expecting big things by pairing Fernandes and Pogba together, their chances of getting a top 4 place will be as dependent on what’s happening behind them.
Prior to the break, they were below Chelsea in the Premier League betting for the top four market, but that could soon change with a fit again Pogba to complete their midfield and add some creative spark. However, if they’re going to finish in a Champions League spot, McTominay will have as much to do with that ambition as will a fit again Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and loanee Odion Ighalo.
Shades of Keane
While McTominay might not have the dominating fear factor of former United hero Roy Keane, he enjoys some of the midfield enforcer’s strong-arm qualities. Like the 1999 treble-winning team captain, there’s nothing subtle about the Scot. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s fearless in the tackle.
When United don’t have the ball, he lingers in the middle of the park like a vulture, ready to snap at heels or win back a loose ball. Conversely, when the team is attacking, he’s got an engine that allows him to go box-to-box for 90 minutes, as well as a powerful right foot that’s bagged him a few notable goals including the odd 25-yard screamer.
When United struggled without him mid-season it prompted Telegraph sports writer James Ducker to say Solksjaer’s team looked “utter spineless” without him. That was after fellow commentator Uzair Madhani of The Top Flight singled out the Scot’s absence as the key reason United drew 3-3 at Bramall Lane two months prior. The stats prove why. McTominay consistently covers more distance than any other United player and during a game with Chelsea at the beginning of the season, covered more distance than any player on the pitch.
It this sort of effort which prompted his national team coach Steve Clarke to lavish him with praise, calling the midfielder a “big, strong athletic boy”, someone with “a lot of good qualities” and a modern day “enforcer”. It’s precisely the reason he’s now a crucial part of United’s squad, and why he’ll have plenty to say on the team’s future fortunes.