Manchester United thrashed Leeds 5-1 in the Premier League with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba starring.
Everyone loves cop shows. Whether they’re procedurals or limited runs on prestige TV shows, or even films about cops, they are intensely popular. But why? The most obvious answer is that people get sucked in by the mystery of the plot. Who did it? What’s going to happen? These are compelling questions, but they are not what draws people into cop shows.
The chemistry between the leads is what draws people in. What hooks them. That interplay defines what a show is and how much fun it is.
Manchester United’s win over Leeds, then, showed how the Red Devils are very much a cop show in that the most enjoyable thing about them, their most compelling attribute, is the chemistry between their two leading men, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
Obviously, Pogba is world-class and has been for years. Hell, he had already won multiple Serie A titles when he joined United in 2016, and has since gone on to win the World Cup and Europa League, scoring in both finals.
William Hill Premier League title odds:
- Man City: 11/10
- Chelsea: 7/2
- Liverpool: 4/1
- Man Utd: 6/1
- Spurs: 40/1
18+ only. BeGambleAware. Odds in this article correct at the time of publication (09:00am, 17/08/21).
But for the longest time he cut a frustrating figure at Old Trafford. Was he a No.10, to be used ahead of two holders? Or was he more of a central midfielder to sit deep and orchestrate play? United could never quite work it out and Pogba would play, generating no chemistry with anyone because there was no one for him to gel with. Forwards, sure, but the other midfielders were not up to par.
Enter Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese No.10 joined Manchester United in January 2020 and since that date has pretty much been the best player in the Premier League. And when United had Pogba and Fernandes playing together in the same team, their chemistry made the Red Devils a far more potent and dangerous attacking outfit that genuinely approached relevance despite holes elsewhere in the team.
Pogba and Fernandes’ chemistry was front and centre in the demolition of Leeds. The pair combined for the first goal when Pogba, playing nominally in left-wing but mostly moving into central areas to do damage, lofted a beautiful pass over the defence to the onrushing Fernandes who took it down and slammed it home.
10 players have scored a hat-trick on the opening weekend of the PL season:
93/94: Micky Quinn
95/96: Le Tissier
96/97: Kevin Campbell
97/98: Dion Dublin
08/09: Gabby Agbonlahor
10/11: Didier Drogba
19/20: Raheem Sterling
20/21: Mo Salah
21/22: Bruno Fernandes pic.twitter.com/uzqTsjU7HM
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) August 14, 2021
Pogba bagged another assist (this time for Mason Greenwood) before the pair linked yet again, with Pogba slipping a delightful ball in behind the Leeds defence for Fernandes to run onto and score yet again. The Portuguese later secured his hat-trick as Victor Lindelof again found him over the top running through on goal.
This is the chemistry Pogba and Fernandes have. Yes, Pogba can drop deeper and start plays, finding Fernandes between the lines where the Portuguese can in turn supply forwards. But what’s so good about them as a duo is that when Pogba steps up (or steps in, as he was doing today) to that key zone ahead of the opposing defence, Fernandes doesn’t stand around in that same area clogging up space; he takes off, making runs into the box to provide another target for the team’s passes. And given the defenders usually move with the United striker, Fernandes can be found in space where he can, y’know, do damage.
This is the teammate Pogba was missing in those years at United before Fernandes joined. Where he was either passing to players who weren’t on his level, or he himself was denied service by subpar pivot partners. Bruno Fernandes is not just a great player, but he also helps define Pogba’s role at Old Trafford as a midfield general. Not necessarily someone who will regularly run with the ball and get into the box, but the player who stays in deeper zones and plays killer balls to the likes of Bruno and others.
Of course, Pogba can still make those forward runs, as we saw on his fourth assist when he ran wide left and cut it back for Fred to score, but United are at their best with the Frenchman breaking lines with his passes to find Fernandes in dangerous areas.
Paul Pogba's PL assists in 20/21:
Paul Pogba vs Leeds United
In 68 minutes of football, Paul Pogba has more assists in the first game of the season than he did all of last season.
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) August 14, 2021
Three goals for Fernandes, four assists for Pogba. Obviously it’s just the opening weekend of the season but even as things stand the potential for Fernandes winning the Golden Boot and Pogba vying for the playmaker award has to be taken seriously off the back of this fast start alone.
For his part, Bruno Fernandes knows just how good Paul Pogba was. Post-match he said that “[Pogba’s] quality is not in discussion. We know what he can do and today he showed that. He’s an important player for us. We know to expect these kind of performances from Paul.”
When one of your best players is openly praising your other best player like that, you know there’s some exceptional chemistry going on. Pogba is 28, Fernandes is 26, both men are fully in their footballing peak and clearly love playing together. Their combination, their chemistry, has been what has made Manchester United a relevant force.
What makes things even more promising for the Red Devils is that the scary addition of Jadon Sancho to this incredible double act is going to make United even stronger. Now these two creative geniuses will have an equally creative talent out wide to combine with. If Sancho settles in quick and catches the rhythm set by Pogba and Fernandes, there’s no telling what United could win.
But as with all good cop shows, the plot isn’t the most important thing. United winning things will be nice, sure, but we’ll tune in just to watch the wonderful football cooked up by Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes (and Jadon Sancho?). Their incredible chemistry will have the world watching every week to soak in the radiance of their fantastic football, whether or not they wind up solving the mystery of missing silverware for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.