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A 1-1 draw it may have been, but Friday’s game against Tottenham Hotspur produced plenty of moments to inspire optimism for Manchester United for the remainder of the season.
And, of course, a couple to be pessimistic about. But let’s start with the good news.
Paul Pogba started the game on the bench, but arguably changed it completely after being introduced in the second-half.
We have seen this sort of thing from Pogba before, flashes of his undoubted talent before he regresses to maddening inconsistency.
But there was enough in that performance to suggest that, despite Bruno Fernandes immediately settling in as United’s main creative force, there is still space for Pogba.
So should the pair start together? Can they?
“He had a point to prove, that’s the thing,” said Daniel Storey on the Totally Football Show this week. “When he has a point to prove he demands the ball, which is exactly what United needed in that situation, someone to go past a player, and to look after the ball when they’ve done that. The big question is whether they can start him in games like that.
“With the stuttering of clubs above them, it might be worth Solskjaer, not going for all-out attack but certainly attack as their best form of defence. I don’t think they’re good enough [in defence] at the moment, with Maguire and De Gea in the form they’re in, to invite teams onto them, and they’re better off on the front foot.
“By playing the two of them [Pogba and Fernandes], they will automatically pin teams back more. We talked about this on the last show, but if you’ve got two creative midfielders with the ability to pick passes like that, then they’ll back themselves to create enough chances to score goals. I hope he picks them both against Sheffield United [on Wednesday].”
Matt Davies-Adams added: “Given what Sheffield United have looked like in the two games they’ve played, you’d expect Manchester United to beat them at Old Trafford. Then after that, they don’t play anyone in the top eight until Leicester on the last day, so it really is a good opportunity to cement fifth place if that’s good enough, and also make up some ground on Chelsea which they obviously lost this weekend.”
The circumstances may well have given Solskjaer the perfect way of introducing Pogba, according to Michael Cox.
“I actually think it went pretty well for Solskjaer and Manchester United. Before the break, United were playing really well with Fernandes in that No.10 role with Scott McTominay and Fred just behind. I think it would’ve looked quite bad from Solskjaer’s perspective if he’d just said straight away “scrap that, bring back Pogba, he’s our star”, when we know that the issue with Pogba is he struggles to fit into a system.
“I think it went quite well that they had to bring him on because the game was getting away from them, and then he played well enough that, OK, for the second game back, I’m sure he’s going to start.”
Now, the bad news. David De Gea’s form and ability has been a concern for a while, but that was emphasised by his dreadful error to allow Steven Bergwijn’s admittedly powerful but straight shot through and into the net.
“The thing that would worry me about De Gea,” said Michael Cox, “is that he’s made so many errors, but they’re different types of errors. It doesn’t strike me as a technical problem where he’s bad with low shots, or bad with crosses.
“When De Gea came to United there were always areas of his game that weren’t so strong, but he’s always been a good shot-stopper. I can’t really see any excuse for letting that shot in.”
All of which has led to increased talk that De Gea is no longer the best goalkeeper on United’s books, and that Dean Henderson, currently on loan at Sheffield United, will be their No.1 soon enough.
But, as Daniel Storey pointed out, it’s not quite as easy as that.
“Of all the summers to sell De Gea, this is the least likely, with the austerity around transfer budgets which I assume will be in force across Europe. There were only one or two clubs that could buy him anyway and I’m not sure whether they will have enough money or need to spend that money on a goalkeeper.
“Dean Henderson is a good goalkeeper but it helps him that he’s at Sheffield United rather than Manchester United at the moment. His reputation will never be higher because he does make mistakes: he made a couple of horrendous mistakes at the Under-21 Euros in 2019, and he’s made a couple at Sheffield United.
“It’s decision to make further down the line, but I still think De Gea will stay as No.1 for a while.”
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