Manchester United are still top of the Premier League table following their 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Sunday.
The Red Devils haven’t lifted the title since 2012/13 (Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge) but are well in the hunt this time around, sitting two points clear of Manchester City, who have a game in hand, and Leicester City, while they’re three ahead of reigning champions Liverpool in fourth.
Although a goalless draw at Anfield is by no means a poor result, it could have been so much better for United, who squandered a couple of great second-half chances, including one from Paul Pogba late on as he broke free in the box to receive the ball from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but fired a powerful shot straight at Alisson.
But former United defender Gary Neville believes Pogba’s “confidence” will play a key role in his club’s chances, insisting the Frenchman is capable of putting together the sort of form required to win the Premier League.
“I think Manchester United’s chances of winning this league are slim – Liverpool and Man City are still the best two teams in this league,” he said on his Sky Sports podcast. “But the slim chance they have to win this league will depend on something like Paul Pogba delivering a cameo of two or three months of brilliance, which he is capable of.
“He’s got confidence, he’s got arrogance – good arrogance, in a sense that he believes in himself. He thinks he should be playing in the biggest games in the world, and winning titles, and thinking positive thoughts, thinking you’re the best is a big thing when you’re looking to win.
“Just in that last 20 minutes, I felt United just had that little bit of missing belief. It’s not a long way away, but that’s the bit that will stop them winning the title.”
Premier League title odds (via William Hill)
- Man City – 4/7
- Liverpool – 10/3
- Man Utd – 5/1
- Tottenham – 18/1
- Leicester – 33/1
- Chelsea – 50/1
Does Fernandes need back-up from Pogba?
Heading into Sunday’s clash on Merseyside, much was made of the form of Bruno Fernandes over the past year. The Portugal international was recently named as the Premier League’s Player of the Month for December 2020 after notching three goals and four assists throughout the month, making him the first to pick up the accolade four times in a single calendar year.
However, to his displeasure, Fernandes was withdrawn in the latter stages at Anfield, with his manager citing “tactical” reasons.
“It was a tactical decision,” the Norwegian boss said. “Bruno has been running his socks off every single game since he came. He has been here a year and running more or less every game.
“Towards the end, we felt Paul [Pogba]’s physical presence in there might be a chance for us and Mason [Greenwood], when he gets a chance, can score in the blink of a second. So it was a bit of a throw of the dice to put Mason on even though he had to defend against [Andy] Robertson.”
Three of the last five games between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield have ended in 0-0 draws.
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— William Hill (@WilliamHill) January 17, 2021
Fernandes has received criticism for his apparent lack of impact in “big games” and, indeed, his blank at Liverpool means he has just one goal and one assist against last season’s top six (both in a 2-2 draw vs Leicester) this term, while his only goal against any of the supposed “Big Six” in 2020/21 was a penalty during United’s 6-1 home thrashing at the hands of Tottenham.
With that in mind, Neville’s comments do highlight the fact that Fernandes is going to need back-up if United are to sustain their title charge, and Pogba is the most likely man to provide it.
A veteran of four Serie A titles wins and a 2018 World Cup triumph, during which he was named in the Team of the Tournament by a number of media outlets, Pogba is no stranger to delivering silverware.
While his record against the top sides in the leagues in which he has competed doesn’t stand out, he did net three times against Napoli during his time in Turin, and served up a memorable performance in a 3-2 comeback win over Manchester City back in 2017/18, scoring twice. Pogba has also scored winning goals in World Cup and Europa League finals, and is no stranger to deciding big games.
Pogba put in a man-of-the-match performance against Burnley prior to the draw with Liverpool, scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 victory and ending the match with the most touches, passes completed, aerial duels won, clearances and chances created of any player on the pitch.
“Quite often Bruno Fernandes gets the plaudits, but his (Pogba) aerial presence has been fantastic in the last few weeks,” Neville said in the wake of the Burnley result. “He’s winning headers in the centre of midfield and then he gets forward after it.”
If Pogba can continue the steady improvement he’s shown across January, he might just provide the extra edge needed for Man Utd to sustain a title charge.
What next for Man Utd?
With Liverpool out of the way, the Red Devils now have a pair of favourable fixtures in the Premier League, first travelling to Fulham and then hosting Sheffield United, either side of facing Jurgen Klopp’s men again in the FA Cup. After their home match with the Blades, United have back-to-back home games against high-flyers Southampton and Everton.
Man Utd’s next three fixtures (with William Hill odds)
- Fulham (5/1) vs Man Utd (8/15)
- Man Utd (2/7) vs Sheffield Utd (11/1)
- Man Utd (13/8) vs Liverpool (8/5) — FA Cup