It’s not where Paul Pogba can be played to get the best out of the Frenchman, but rather where can Pogba play to get the best out of Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must move his most talented player further forward to change United’s fortunes.
The Reds are often bereft of creativity in attack, despite some defensive improvement. Ed Woodward’s failure to sign a central midfielder has left United with two unattractive options. The first is to risk a stagnant and ponderous base of the team by shifting Pogba’s focus to all-out attack. The other is to risk a dearth of creativity up front by keeping Pogba as a deep midfielder.
United must once again ask Pogba to be everything and anything this season. Solskjaer’s first change should be to shift him further forwards. Now in his fourth season at the club, it’s evident that Pogba is a creative midfielder. Any attempt to make him something he’s not should be quashed; it’s left Pogba and United frustrated for far too long.
Loss of possession comes with creativity
His much-maligned frequent loss of possession is part of his game, just like it is part of Kevin de Bruyne’s game. Both are incredibly talented and a joy to watch, but neither have the ability to produce magical moments without losing the ball. Only Lionel Messi can claim such a skill-set.
Pogba and De Bruyne’s game are vastly different, but it’s futile to pretend that Pogba can effectively play at the base of midfield like Gini Wijnaldum. Last season, Pogba lost possession 2.5 times per league game, while Wijnaldum lost it only 1.1 times per game. Simultaneously, though, Pogba contributed 22 goals/assists and Wijnaldum only three.
The season before, where De Bruyne played regularly unlike in the 2018/19 campaign, the stats show a similar theme. Pogba lost the ball 1.5 times per game, De Bruyne 1.6 times per game and Wijnaldum only 1.1 times per game. Yet Pogba came up with 16 goals or assists, De Bruyne 24 and Wijnaldum only two.
Pogba, like Messi, gives away the ball
It’s a clear, obvious and predictable correlation between creative success and number of times possession is lost. In the modern era of football, expectations of fans are higher than ever because of the genius of Messi, though the great Argentine himself loses possession three times a game.
The question really is, what is Paul Pogba? He is not a Wijnaldum-style player. Perhaps he does fit into the De Bruyne category, but that seems wrong. Pogba’s skill set is so unique. Few other midfielders at his level can dribble with such control or take on a full-back while also having the vision and ability to accurately spray passes and feed attackers.
Time for Solskjaer to change
Pogba has not and cannot drag United forward when behind. For this season, at least, that has to be accepted. By moving him forward, though, he can provide more. To do so, United must sacrifice something else. Matic or Fred would have to come into the side to play deeper alongside McTominay. That comes with its own risks. It is Woodward’s inability to sign a midfielder has left United in this situation. If Solskjaer is to make United into the attacking side he has promised, playing Pogba further forward fits with that ideal.
The concern with such a change is that Pogba will have less space in which to thrive. It’s notable that Pogba loses possession far less often while playing for France (2). The same is true for United in the Champions League (1.4), where the pace of the game is often slower. So Pogba must adjust, too, by making his game a little simpler and offloading the ball quicker when necessary.
Pogba change needed against smaller opponents
Solskjaer would be well within his rights to keep Pogba deep for now. But against smaller opponents – and United have Astana, West Ham and Rochdale coming up after Saturday’s Leicester game – it’s a must. United simply cannot create anything without their best player involved in every attack. And for all his problems, there remains no doubt that Paul Pogba is United’s best player.
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