There were plenty of talking points to emerge from Manchester United’s desperately disappointing draw against Southampton and one of them arrived in the build-up from club-great-turned-pundit Paul Scholes.
Ralf Rangnick won’t have been happy with what his side produced as Jadon Sancho’s first-half strike was canceled out by Che Adams to wrap up a miserable week for United and the same all-too-familiar problems that have haunted the team in recent weeks were on display again.
Scholes argued before the match that there are no proven partnerships in the first-team squad and what transpired proved him right as the Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes axis briefly flickered before fading into obscurity.
He said to BT Sport: “When I look back at teams that I played in, I always think of relationships, partnerships within a team.
“In this Man United team at the minute, I don’t see partnerships. I don’t see two centre-halves that will always play well together. I don’t see left-back and left-back and left-winger playing well together.”
On this evidence, Fernandes and Pogba look incompatible and while there were brief suggestions they could work in tandem to carve Southampton apart, the more the match wore on, the more the feeling grew that they cannot perform together.
United supporters respect Scholes’ comments. He’s one of the greatest midfielders the club has ever nurtured and his opinion of him comes from a position of authority given what he has achieved. His pre-match prediction of him was damning but not incorrect.
Criticism of United’s failings in recent weeks have focused on their inability to sustain the level they set in the first half. They’re a Jekyll and Hyde team that cannot find any consistency and, unfortunately, they haven’t looked like a coordinated unit. Pogba and Fernandes epitomized this.
Both of United’s star performers had eye-catching moments against Southampton in the first half, showing supporters why they can, when everything comes together in an attacking sense, make each other tick.
While Pogba lined up in a deeper position compared to Fernandes, it looked like they were playing together in a more advanced area ahead of Scott McTominay. The Frenchman found himself in the final third often with Fernandes by his side.
There was a moment when the ball went out for a throw-in which Fernandes took, and instead of waiting for another teammate to take it instead, he quickly found Paul Pogba, who produced a wonderful crossfield pass to Marcus Rashford. It proved they can work at the same wavelength. Fernandes also tried to pick Pogba out with a cheeky free-kick but he scuffed his shot and it came to nothing. The ability to pick him out, plus the positioning from Pogba, though was encouraging to see.
While Pogba causes a lot of debate, no one can argue that he has higher levels he can reach when playing at his best and Fernandes can make him better. You only have to look back at their relationship at the end of 2019/20 to know that. Even in the opening game of this season (5-1 against Leeds United), Fernandes scored a hat-trick, while Pogba got four assists.
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But the second half showed why Scholes might’ve been right about United’s lack of partnerships. No one seemed to be taking responsibility, which is why Rangnick’s team seemed to play well for only half of the game.
Pogba and Fernandes were hardly recognizable in the second half. They disappeared to the peripheries of the game and didn’t get involved enough. Was that due to Southampton upping the intensity levels or United fading out of the match? Perhaps both played a part, but they shouldn’t have been as absent as they provided when United required more bravery and responsibility on the ball.
Scholes’ assessment of United rank true in that second half. Pogba and Fernandes were arguably United’s best opportunity at creating a partnership because it’s an area where they lack an extra body. Clearly, they’re suffering from the lack of partnerships in the entire team. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford flip-flopping from flank to flank offered further evidence of the lack of fluidity in the team.
If Rangnick is to turn around United’s fortunes, he should start by addressing Scholes’ claims and find ways to get key players partnered up with others.
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