So much of the momentum Manchester United ended last season with disappeared in the early weeks of the new campaign, but that is especially true of a midfield partnership that looked so thrilling back in the heady days of summer.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes started 10 of United’s final 13 games in all competitions, often with Nemanja Matic providing some solidity alongside them, and it clicked immediately.
After Fernandes’ stunning impact on arrival at Old Trafford the prospect of him playing alongside Pogba had exercised minds around the club and amongst the fans. There was plenty of column inches devoted and social media discussions about whether they could form an effective partnership, or if the impact of Fernandes was going to bring the curtain down of Pogba’s United career.
When Pogba regained fitness as the season resumed in June they quickly answered those questions. United won seven, drew two and lost one of those 10 games and both Pogba and Fernandes played well during the run-in to claiming third in the Premier League table.
Pogba, in particular, looked happier than he had done for a long time at Old Trafford and he seemed inspired to be playing alongside another midfield who belonged in his bracket.
Speaking in July, the World Cup winner said: “I try to learn. When Bruno arrived, I get that I need to understand him straight away. I didn’t want one month to adapt to his game so I watched him, watched his position, how he used the ball, what he’s good at so when I came back we could do well together. I understand him so I don’t have to adapt.
“Straight away when I get to him, I know ‘I can make this run’, ‘I know I have to pass him the ball there because he is dangerous there’. I try to analyse how he plays with the team, how to improve my positioning and stuff like that. It was a lesson when I was injured.”
That puts to bed the idea that Pogba is coasting through the end of his United career, with a move seemingly still on the cards after recent comments while away on international duty.
The 27-year-old used his time out wisely and those efforts contributed to the partnership working quickly on the pitch once they were unleashed as teammates.
But this season has been a lot tougher. Pogba and Fernandes have started four games together this season but three have ended in defeat, to Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal.
Manchester United bounced back from their defeat by PSG in midweek with a 3-1 victory over West Ham at the London Stadium.
It means United have won their last nine away league games and haven’t tasted defeat on the road in the league since January ahead of Tuesday’s trip to RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
MEN Sport will bring you all the build-up to that huge match. You can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this article, or simply follow this link. It’s free and only takes a few seconds.
Having Pogba in that deeper midfield role hasn’t worked as well and has contributed to United looking more open than they did towards the end of last term.
In their 45 minutes together at the London Stadium, however, there were signs that the partnership could yet still prove effective for United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has more midfield options that he did last season, thanks to the arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax, but it remains the case that on their day Pogba and Fernandes are United’s two best midfielders.
In the second half against West Ham they combined well and after the hour mark, when United threatened to carve open the Hammers at will, they combined superbly on several occasions.
Fernandes’ impact hasn’t waned this season, if anything he’s become even more important, but Pogba had been well below his best until the game in the capital on Sunday.
Maybe his post-match comments to MUTV give an insight into why it’s taken him so long to find his best form this season, and why now might be the time to unleash Pogba and Fernandes together once more.
“It’s strange, it’s hard to explain because you wouldn’t understand. Even in training, I would say to the fitness coach that I feel strange,” he said at the London Stadium.
“It’s not me. I get tired very fast and I’m out of breath really fast. The first game of the season, I couldn’t run. I was trying. I spoke with the manager, “I will start the game and let’s see,” but I was very out of breath and it took me a long time to get me back to my fitness and to get back physically good.”
A lack of energy from Pogba did seem to be a major issue for United earlier in the season, exposing the back four too often. The difficulties he’s had in properly getting over COVID-19 would explain that. If he’s now feeling close to 100 per cent again then that partnership with Fernandes could give United a different dynamic, especially in a week when they face two huge games against excellent teams in RB Leipzig and Manchester City.