With both Fernandes and £89m man Paul Pogba both vying for the same spot in United’s midfield, it is near-on impossible for Solskjaer to please both – as has been evident from recent line-ups.
But add in the summer acquisition of £40m Donny van de Beek, another creative midfielder, and that selection headache becomes a full-on migraine. One that has cost the club a combined £197m in transfer fees.
Bruno Fernandes has become Manchester United’s main spark for creativity in the middle
Paul Pogba has played a limited role in recent matches but started against RB Leipzig this week
If both Pogba and Fernandes are included in the starting line-up, there is very little protection for the United backline, which was highlighted by their 6-1 drubbing against Tottenham in the Premier League.
Hence why Solskjaer opted to deploy his No 1 creative star Fernandes in front of both Fred and Scott McTominay to shore up United’s defence for crunch matches against the likes of PSG and Chelsea.
And following the 0-0 draw against Chelsea, as Pogba once again came on as a late substitute, former Liverpool defender turned pundit Jamie Carragher made the assertion that the Frenchman and Fernandes simply cannot function in the same team together.
Carragher questioned why on earth United had signed Van de Beek too.
He said: ‘I actually admire (Ole Gunnar) Solskjaer for putting Pogba on the bench.
‘I said a few weeks ago after the Crystal Palace game, Fernandes and Pogba is not a midfield that can play together and never will be.
‘Van de Beek, I don’t understand the signing, I really don’t get it, how he was ever going to play or where he’s going to fit in.
‘As soon as he signed I thought he plays No 10, Fernandes plays there, Pogba can play there.
‘It’s actually better for the team having Fred and McTominay in there. But having Fred and McTominay is not good enough for Manchester United to win the league either.
‘The problem for me is Paul Pogba, I’ve said it for a long time. I’m with Gary (Neville), Fernandes is the man for that No 10 position but I don’t know how Ole can not pick a £90m signing in Pogba, it’s difficult for a manager, so at some stage he will get back into the team.’
Jamie Carragher is adamant that United cannot function with Pogba and Fernandes together
That time came on Wednesday night, as Solskjaer decided to rest Fernandes for the Champions League encounter with RB Leipzig and instead start Pogba and Van de Beek as part of a midfield diamond.
It worked a treat, with the Dutchman looking bright at the tip of the formation, Pogba pulling the strings and Nemanja Matic and Fred keeping things secure in an emphatic 5-0 victory at Old Trafford.
But while the extra options are a nice problem for Solskjaer, keeping his players happy and finding a way on incorporating them into the same starting XI remains an issue he must fix. With over £170m worth of midfield talent on the bench during the bore 0-0 draw with Chelsea, this can’t be sustainable in the long run.
The big problem with using both Fernandes and Pogba is that there is a big chance that the opposition can overrun a weak midfield. With a lack of defensive discipline, teams could run riot just like Tottenham did at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. They picked them to pieces and United’s concerns were there for all to see.
Donny van de Beek started at the top of a midfield diamond in the 5-0 win over RB Leipzig
But herein lies another puzzle. It’s tempting to play the pair together against less formidable sides. Pogba and Fernandes can pick apart teams with ease thanks to their creativity, guile and power.
When the pair have played together since Fernandes’ arrival, United have won seven matches, drawn just two and lost two.
They have scored 26 goals in the 11 matches, while managing a whopping 132 shots. So there certainly will never be a creativity issue.
But defensively, United’s worries are obvious. During those 11 matches, the Red Devils have conceded 16 goals and faced 130 shots.
However, when Fernandes has started on his own with more protection behind him, United have looked far more assured at the back – conceding just three times in eight matches.
SHOULD UNITED PLAY POGBA AND FERNANDES… OR JUST BRUNO?
Interestingly, United are producing more shots when Pogba starts on the bench, having 126 in just eight games, with 52 of those on target.
So while the argument that playing the pair together will give United more attacking freedom, the stats seem to suggest that this isn’t quite so.
When the pair do feature together, United can’t just allowing them to flourish in their favoured positions, as was evident against Chelsea.
As Pogba and Edinson Cavani were brought on to try and win the game for United on Saturday, Fernandes was shifted out to the right.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant, Steve McClaren, noticed that Fernandes wasn’t particularly happy to be playing out wide – claiming that his body language was well off.
‘I’ve been watching Bruno Fernandes and he’s disappointed’, McClaren told talkSPORT. ‘He’s disappointed because he’s been taken out of the middle and he’s out on the right-hand side.
‘I saw it last week against Newcastle, when he went out wide, and I’m seeing it again now.
‘His body language is not good, he’s not getting involved. He needs to be in the game and on that right-hand side he’s not moving from there, he’s got to move from there, he’s got to get his head up and get back into the game and affect the game.’
Van de Beek has seen his opportunities severely limited since his £40m arrival from Ajax
The midfield situation is proving a real headache for United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Fernandes and Pogba are two big personalities and if neither feel they can impact the game in the way they want to, then there are further problems for Solskjaer.
Adding Van de Beek, United’s marquee signing this summer from Ajax, into the equation makes it a whole lot tougher for the Red Devils boss.
As their pursuit of Jadon Sancho continued to falter, Van de Beek was brought in to add to United’s star-studded attack.
However, the Dutchman has played just 59 minutes in the Premier League and is yet to start in the top flight, despite United’s poor start which has left them 15th after five matches.
Sky Sports’ cameras picked up images of Van de Beek watching on forlorn from the bench as United desperately needed some inspiration on the pitch against Frank Lampard’s side.
Before he started against RB Leipzig on Wednesday night, fans and pundits alike had already beginning to question United’s need for Van de Beek.
Dutch legend Marco van Basten told Rondo: ‘Donny should not have gone to Manchester United.
Pogba and Fernandes’ roles are proving a tough puzzle for Solskjaer to solve at present
Van de Beek did his chances of more playing time no harm with his display on Wednesday
‘When you are a good player you want to play every week. It is really bad for a player like Donny to play only six or seven games this year. That is shocking for your match rhythm.
‘I know he is earning loads and loads more than he used to. But as a top player you have to be critical and look at the chances of playing when you sign for a new club.
‘Donny should have waited for better prospects and signed for another club.’
The former Ajax star showed he has plenty to offer United’s midfield against Leipzig, with his ability on the ball and knack of drifting into small spaces high up the pitch offering United a new dimension going forward.
Van de Beek is capable of creating chances and scoring goals – just like Pogba and Fernandes – and he likes to be involved heavily when his side have possession.
Last season in the Premier League, only five players had more touches per game in the opposition box – namely Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Gabriel Jesus – than Van de Beek did in the Eredivisie.
French World Cup winner Pogba continues to flirt with a move away from Old Trafford
Solskjaer has plenty of thinking to do in order to maximise the trio’s incredible potential but the reality is that they are very unlikely to ever play together on the same pitch.
We have seen that United can crumble in an instant with just two of the three playing, so using all three at the same time would leave Solskjaer’s defence badly exposed.
Against lesser teams, the trio could work together but against the Big Six and the in-form sides such as Everton and Leicester, United could come unstuck with Fernandes and Pogba in the middle and Van de Beek slightly further forward or on the wing.
However, it may not be a problem in the long run if Pogba continues to flirt with a move away.
The French World Cup winner reopened his public courting with Real Madrid recently, admitting it would be his ‘dream’ to play there under legendary compatriot Zinedine Zidane.
If Pogba’s dream becomes a reality, then United’s midfield migraine might subside back to a mere headache.