Mason Greenwood hogged the headlines at the weekend and Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes have prompted plenty of comment since Manchester United resumed their Premier League campaign – but it’s Paul Pogba who is the driving force Aston Villa will have to contain.
That’s the view of Red Devils legend Rio Ferdinand who believes the arrival of Fernandes has eased the pressure on the France World Cup winner who has enjoyed an unlikely reintegration to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team.
United bring their long unbeaten streak to Villa Park on Thursday night, boasting cohesion in midfield, cutting edge in attack and a record of 43 goals scored and only six conceded in the last 16 matches.
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Villa by contrast are nine league games without a win – and whilst they have steadied the ship defensively, they have scored only twice in their last seven Premier League matches.
“[Paul] Pogba has been a totally different player since the restart,” Ferdinand told BT Sport
“The energy levels in his game, it’s the Pogba United paid £89m for four years ago. A big factor is undoubtedly the man he is playing with in the centre of midfield – Bruno Fernandes.
“Pogba will not want to be shown up out there and that’s perhaps the motivation he needed. Solskjaer will be absolutely loving what he’s seeing from those two.
“Fernandes is just doing what comes naturally to him and it’s been a huge boost to Pogba’s form – it’s freed him up to play as well.
“There’s probably less pressure on him now because he knows that some of the burden of expectation is being shouldered by Fernandes.”
Villa produced a credible 2-2 draw when the sides met at Old Trafford in December, with goals from Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings.