Neil Humphreys: Red Devils’ fab four to the fore
Pogba, Fernandes, Martial and Rashford will define United's season
Imagine being a Manchester United supporter right now. The last week must have been an excruciating, confusing mix of despair and hope.
The despair was easy enough to explain. Watching Liverpool shake off the 30-year monkey had to be a visceral, painful experience, rather like having a part of one's body severed on the spikes of the Shankly Gates.
But there was also hope. And that's worse.
A great Liverpool and a rubbish United is a simplistic narrative, but at least it's binary and conclusive. It's not true though, is it?
In the same week that the Reds celebrated their English Premier League title triumph in a city that gave birth to The Beatles, there was a performance from another fab four that suggested a possible resurrection in Manchester.
Now, there is the tantalising, taunting possibility that things may get better, that United might actually challenge Liverpool next season, as long as Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford stay happy and healthy.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are beginning to do justice to the club's legacy, pedigree and global standing.
Fernandes' extraordinary form has forced Pogba to tone down his insufferable petulance and try to rediscover the World Cup winner that lurks within.
After too many peripheral performances, Martial was threatening to join Jesse Lingard in the waiting room for unfulfilled youth prodigies. But the excellent hat-trick against Sheffield United has ensured a career-best scoring season for Martial.
Rashford, the most naturally athletic of the four and an obvious leading man, is a world-class striker in the making not currently playing as a striker, but more on him in a moment.
In the meantime, United head to Brighton and Hove Albion tomorrow morning (Singapore time) on the back of a 14-game unbeaten streak in all competitions with an attacking quartet that is easily the most accomplished since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
As Robin van Persie recently said: "You can just tell when Pogba's playing, Martial and Rashford go a level up."
Add Fernandes into the mix and they climb higher still, reaching for a sustained level of excellence that is the norm at Liverpool and Manchester City.
They are not there yet. United's dull toiling against Norwich City in the FA Cup exposed a threadbare squad. Reinforcements are required, particularly at centre-back and in defensive midfield.
But the 3-0 EPL win over Sheffield United trumpeted an outstanding attacking quartet, with Pogba, Fernandes, Rashford and Martial all starting together for the first time.
It seemed almost greedy of Solskjaer to include the promising Mason Greenwood on the right of United's front three, but the line-up was a fair indication of the manager's quiet progress since January.
Solskjaer boldly considered Pogba and Rashford as "world-class talent" in a recent interview, which sounded like a splash of hyperbole and a touch of pragmatism as he continues to wage a PR war to keep Pogba at the club.
Solskjaer might just be winning.
Pogba and Fernandes are practically blowing kisses on social media, liking and commenting on each other's Instagram posts and hinting that Pogba may recognise that the grass isn't always greener, even at Real Madrid, and stick around with the Portuguese playmaker.
Fernandes' explosive introduction to EPL football certainly panders to Pogba's ego, perhaps convincing the Frenchman that he finally has a midfield partner that his incomparable talent deserves.
The two were terrific together against Sheffield United, complementing each other's slightly different skillset. Pogba surged forward. Fernandes operated in tiny pockets like a Dickensian scamp.
Even in the sub-standard cup tie at Norwich, Fernandes still found his teammates 72 times in the final third and created five chances. An off-day doesn't make him less instrumental. He inspires others to improve.
Pogba picked up an assist for Martial's third goal against Sheffield United and Martial's hat-trick took his tally to 19 in all competitions.
Martial leads the line on merit, partially because Rashford hasn't dazzled with quite the same intensity on the left flank.
Indeed his greatest performance was off the pitch, launching a charity campaign that forced the British government to U-turn and give free school meals to the poorest kids during the pandemic. He's still only 22. His time will come.
From an embarrassment to an embarrassment of riches, Solskjaer will head to Brighton with a settled attack for the first time in his tumultuous reign.
Pogba, Fernandes, Martial and Rashford can lead United back into the Champions League this season.
After the despair of the Reds' title win, a new fab four offer the Red Devils a bit of hope.