Pogba's shadow looms over miserable Man Utd midfield after another bore draw

Bruno Fernandes Paul Pogba Man Utd GFX
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side again dropped points in the Premier League, this time against Crystal Palace, as the Frenchman's importance was laid bare

Match statistics: Crystal Palace 0-0 Manchester United

There was only one Manchester United player who came out of Wednesday's bore draw with Crystal Palace having improved their reputation, and he was sat at home over 200 miles away.

Paul Pogba's return from a thigh injury cannot come soon enough for the Red Devils, who yet again lacked any urgency, desire or drive from midfield as they recorded a third successive goalless draw.

Since Pogba was substituted in the first half of the 3-3 draw with Everton, United have won just one of their four subsequent league games, while their 10 matches since moving to the top of the table in January have returned just three victories.

Back around the turn of the year, Pogba was one of the division's stand-out performers, with the France international both scoring and laying on goals while taking some of the burden off Bruno Fernandes.

But United do not have a player who can replicate Pogba's skillset within their squad, and it is beginning to show.

At Selhurst Park, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went with Fred and Nemanja Matic as his midfield duo behind Fernandes, but the pair lack the dynamism that Pogba provides.

Though they do bring a stability to United's spine, it must be asked why Solskjaer felt the need to field two such players against a team who have managed such six shots across their last two games.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United Palace 2020-21

They certainly did their job in shutting down Palace, with Dean Henderson only called upon to make one relatively difficult save as he denied Patrick van Aanholt late on having been called upon to start as David de Gea pulled out due to personal reasons.

But neither Fred nor Matic are known for their ball-carrying ability, and too often their first option would be to pass the ball sideways, or even backwards, as United struggled to play with any kind of tempo through the south London fog.

Scott McTominay's introduction in the 73rd minute did help somewhat, but the Scotland international is limited in terms of what he can offer in attacking areas.

All that meant that Fernandes was again relied upon to be the creator-in-chief, but the former Sporting C.P. man endured his second-straight under-par outing in the capital.

It is becoming something of a cliche that if Fernandes fails to fire then so do United, but at least when Pogba was on the pitch this season there was someone who could pick up the slack in central areas.

Instead United were limited to launching attacks through their full-backs; a route which did lead to their best chance of the night when Marcus Rashford fired wide after a strong run by the continually impressive Luke Shaw.

Andros Townsend, Crystal Palace, Luke Shaw, Man Utd 2020-21

United fans would have hoped that Donny van de Beek would have provided more answers to their midfield conundrum this season, but the summer signing from Ajax was again absent, missing out on the squad after being deemed not fit enough to travel as he recovers from a minor injury, despite having made the bench against Chelsea on Sunday.

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United's sixth 0-0 of the season - the most by any Premier League side in 2020-21 and the joint-most they have ever recorded in the competition in a single campaign - means they are now 14 points adrift of Manchester City, and instead of aiming to close down Pep Guardiola's side are beginning to look over their shoulders towards the teams chasing places in the top four.

Solskjaer's side face City this coming Sunday, while games against West Ham and Tottenham are also looming on the horizon either side of the upcoming international break. Continue to drop points in those fixtures and suddenly what was turning into an encouraging season could have a rather uncomfortable finish.

Pogba's return, needless to say, cannot come soon enough.

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