Was Manchester United’s tepid win against Leicester City a glimpse of life without talisman Paul Pogba? If so, then it might be reason to worry.
United’s dogged performance against Leicester City resembled a win that Jose Mourinho would have been proud of. Solskjaer’s men got a 1-0 goal lead and then produced a very pragmatic and organised display to ensure they got a much needed three points.
The Red Devils were at home and had 41.7% possession at Old Trafford, Solskjaer’s side weren’t playing a swashbuckling Pep Guardiola side, they were playing Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester.
This was the least possession United had managed all season, but was this expected with Solskjaer unable to call upon his chief conductor Pogba?
In the Frenchman’s absence, the Norwegian recalled Nemanja Matic, who was joined by the ever present Scott McTominay in a quest to stifle Leicester’s key creators James Maddison and Youri Tielemans.
United completed 258/345 passes at a success rate of 74.8%, whilst the Foxes finished with passing stats of 373/471 79.2%.
This was the least passes attempted by United so far this season, there second least was the opening day drubbing of Chelsea, where they attempted 449 passes.
Despite an early Marcus Rashford penalty, United never threatened to carve Leicester open, in a scrappy game, which ended Solskjaer’s side bleak run but highlighted the glaring lack of creativity minus Pogba.
United made 58/97 (59.8%) attacking third passes compared to Leicester’s 86/123 (69.9%). We also didn’t conjure up one clear cut chance, Leicester managed two.
Scott McTominay is showing signs of maturity and leadership, and his display against Leicester showed that he relishes the role of being United’s new hard man, but without Pogba, United look like a side built for reacting, rather than dictating.
Nemanja Matic looked cumbersome in his recall to the starting 11, and the lack of urgency to buy a creative midfielder in the summer is becoming more and more glaring as the season develops.
Since re-joining United, Pogba averages a goal contribution every other game, with 24 goals and 25 assists (49) in 99 Premier League appearances.
The former Juventus man has also created 19 big chances in the Premier League. In contrast Matic, McTominay, Pereira and Fred have only conjured up 16 between them.
After his two assists against Chelsea, it was Pogba’s powerful driving run against Wolves that won the penalty he ended up missing, and it was his desire to win the ball back off Wilfred Zaha, which started the move that saw Daniel James score the equaliser against Crystal Palace.
If Pogba isn’t available for selection, United’s attackers look cut adrift from the rest of a team that are focused on containing the opposition. However, when the 26-year-old plays, United’s forward line has that missing link that can be unleashed in the blink of an eye due to the passing range he possesses.
That night in Paris
United have shown they can win ugly without Pogba before on the biggest stage.
Solskjaer’s finest hour since returning to Manchester was the famous victory away to Paris Saint Germain.
The Norwegian was in the midst of a dream start to life as caretaker manager, but he was given a reality check by the French giants in the home leg.
United arrived in Paris with a depleted squad, a bench full of inexperienced academy talent and a suspended Pogba.
United only attempted 292 passes in the return leg but they found a way to produce the ultimate smash and grab performance, through their energy, grit, effort and determination.
The concerns are that United should be relying on their technical abilities to win and dominate football matches, there will be times where they have to dig in and show that desire to get hard-fought results, but our quality should shine through.
The transition from back to front in United’s midfield is often too slow and lacklustre, if United are to produce the attacking brand of football Solskjaer craves, Pogba’s fellow midfielders are going to have to be willing to incorporate an element of risk into their passing and have the courage to demand and get on the ball more.
With the Real Madrid rumours showing no sign of letting up, it could only be a matter of time before Paul Pogba leaves Manchester United, the worry is that the attacking philosophy that Solskjaer wants to implement at United, is reliant on the club’s record signings involvement and commitment to the cause.
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