Paul Pogba’s much-anticipated return to Manchester United in 2016 saw him slot into a side desperate for world-class quality. On some very rare occasions, he provided it. But it was far from a settled side.
For all of United’s current problems, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have a settled midfield in Fred and Scott McTominay, an attack that picks itself and a backline that, for the majority of games, is pretty self-explanatory.
At no other time in his United career, including when he re-joined for a world-record fee, has Pogba had the opportunity to come into a side like this one. It’s not necessarily that the players around him are any better than they were in previous seasons, but that Solskjaer has begun to build something regardless of Pogba’s inclusion.
Paul Pogba will be a player in a team, not an individual
Some United fans will argue that Solskjaer’s ability to find a settled starting line-up is a result of Pogba’s injury and subsequent absences. But that doesn’t matter, now. What does is that Pogba, who began Sunday’s game against Watford on the bench, can come into a side that needs him, but won’t be entirely reliant on him. Under Jose Mourinho, a complete dependence on one of Ibrahimovic or Pogba was constant.
This time, United’s midfield pairing of McTominay and Fred has developed in recent weeks. In big games, including the Manchester derby and a home win against Mourinho’s Spurs, the pair have shown their quality. In front of them, a space is available. Jesse Lingard has had a couple of good games and sometimes Andreas Pereira has forced Solskjaer to start with a midfield three. But that number 10 role could become Pogba’s regular position and role. That’s something that’s been missing since he joined; consistency. He’s been too inconsistent and the fact he’s played all across midfield in all kinds of roles, including as a winger under Mourinho, hasn’t helped.
Pogba comes into a settled midfield of McTominay and Fred
For Pogba, a settled side, and one that isn’t too far off the top four, is a challenge. He must meet it. The wrong attitude won’t be accepted under Solskjaer and when United are already in good form, there’s no reason to say that Pogba won’t stay on the bench if he doesn’t perform.
If United are to see the best out of Pogba, the man they thought would start a Mourinho-managed revolution at the club, it requires the right behaviour from all parties involved. Perhaps the most important is Pogba, though. He’s got to show that he deserves a second chance from the fans who have hardly seen him in the second half of 2019.
In his performance against Watford, coming off the bench, Pogba impressed. He was energetic and showed some quality. “He did really well,” Solskjaer said after the game. That’s got to continue. If it does, perhaps United will finally be able to beat sides when they have more possession than the opposition. The side is crying out for a goal-scoring, creative attacking midfielder.
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