Bruno Fernandes "dented Paul Pogba's ego", according to Paul Parker, who says the Manchester United midfielder has raised his game after "playing in the shadow" of the €55 million (£49m/$67m) star last year.
Fernandes quickly established himself as a talismanic figure at Old Trafford after completing a big-money move to United from Sporting CP in January 2019.
The Portuguese inspired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side to a third-place Premier League finish last term, recording eight goals and seven assists in his first 14 outings for the club.
He has built on that platform to spearhead the Red Devils' title tilt this season, emerging as one of the most influential players in the division and a contender for the PFA Player of the Year award in the process.
However, Fernandes' output in the final third has dipped in recent matches, with Pogba stepping up to make the difference instead during crucial victories over Burnley and Fulham.
The Frenchman, who has largely flattered to deceive since returning to Manchester from Juventus for £89m ($122m) back in 2016, scored spectacular winning goals in both of those fixtures and seems to have rediscovered his best form after overcoming a bout of coronavirus and a number of niggling fitness issues.
Parker believes Pogba's improved performances have stemmed from a stubborn refusal to be overshadowed by Fernandes, and he has called on the World Cup winner to maintain his current level as United bid to win their first domestic crown since 2013.
"In 2020 he was been playing in the shadow of Fernandes and that will have dented his ego," The former Red Devils defender told Eurosport.
"Pogba was signed for a big fee; his marketability and profile - as well as his playing ability - suited Manchester United.
"But the best profile you can ever have is to be an excellent footballer, and while Fernandes came in with a much lower profile, his status has outgrown Pogba’s and for the right reasons: he’s at the top of the tree for being brilliant.
"And you can’t beat competition. In any industry, if competition comes along and you just sulk about it, then you’re not going to survive. You have to improve to get respect.
"Fernandes quickly became the key man when he arrived and it became Manchester United and Fernandes, not Pogba. It was Pogba before for the wrong reasons, now it’s Fernandes for goals and assists.
"United need that from Pogba now to challenge for the title, for him to not drop below a 7/10 in any game."
United will put their title aspirations on the backburner this weekend as they come up against Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup, and Parker wants to see Solskjaer send a statement of intent by going all out for the victory at Old Trafford.
"No one has won the league title yet, it’s only January," he added.
"United have an opportunity in the FA Cup against Liverpool, who are still beset by a few injuries. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thinks he has a strong squad then use it.
"It is better to not have three holding players on the pitch, instead go and put players out there who are going to try to win a game of football.
"United are on a great run, and are in a good place, but they can improve that by beating Liverpool. The Red Devils can win it. The players will want it.
"Even under lockdown, you don’t want to be a United player around Manchester, having lost to Liverpool."