Paul Pogba‘s form for France during this summer’s World Cup has been far-and-away his best this season. A tepid second campaign at Manchester United has seen him in the crosshairs of pundits and fans alike.
Those critics were swiftly silenced, however, after witnessing his dominant displays for Les Bleus. Pogba was awarded man-of-the-match in the final against Croatia, bagging the crucial winning goal all while dictating play from the middle of the park.
Pogba’s triumph with France has raised questions as to why he was unable to show this form for his domestic club. His turbulent relationship with Jose Mourinho has been at the forefront of these arguments. The 25-year-old has frequently been benched and slandered by the gaffer at any glimpse of a hiccup in form this season.
So, how has Didier Deschamps managed to get the best out of Pogba? And what does Jose need to acknowledge from this success?
The France System
Like any Jose Mourinho team, Didier Deschamps’ French side heavily emphasized defensive solitude. Despite many – including Pogba himself – claiming the Frenchman’s best position to be on the left of a midfield three, he was rarely deployed there at the World Cup.
Pogba partnered N’golo Kante as a defensively-minded pairing in midfield, with Blaise Matuidi bizarrely acting as a left-winger. Atleti star Antoine Griezmann featured as number ten behind Olivier Giroud, linking the midfield and attack which proved crucial on the counter.
Rather than acting as a roaming midfield occupying pockets of space between midfielders, Pogba played more of a holding role. Now, Jose implemented similar tactics a number of times for United, with much to the criticism. So what was different this time? Why did Pogba not seem as wasted in this role as he was with United?
Though Pogba has never lacked confidence on the ball, he seemed a lot more confident off it.
World Cup Statistics
Unlike United’s lackadaisical approach to regaining possession, Deschamps ensured his side won the ball back as soon as possible after losing it. Pogba won 20 aerial duels during the tournament, averaging 3.6 per game – an impressive tally compared to the 1.9 he averaged for United.
Rarely have we seen him so determined to win the ball back for his team, and the six interceptions he made during the tournament proves it. However, Pogba’s physique makes him ideal to act as a brute in midfield, especially when partnered with Matuidi and Kante.
Having only scored one goal and assisting none only proves Pogba’s responsibilities were more than just creating chances. He was there to be a nuisance. To break up play, and be a key figure in spurring Les Bleus’ counter-attack.
Pogba successfully completed 80% of the passes he attempted, though, he achieved a higher tally of 85% for United this season. Albeit, knowing Jose Mourinho’s tactics, I bet a large percentage of those passes were either backwards or sideways.
The World Cup Final
As I mentioned previously, Pogba only managed to score one goal during his World Cup. Luckily for him, it was the one that sealed another World Cup trophy for his nation.
For most of the game, it was more of the same for Pogba. Croatia’s midfield has been hard for any team to break down during the tournament. Pogba and his team-mates coped just fine though.
The 25-year-old made a total of 30 successful passes – the most of any player on the field – along with making the joint-most interceptions in the game (two).
This allowed the pacey attack of Mbappe and Griezmann to run beyond the Croat defence while Oliver Giroud caused as much disruption as possible. Pogba’s passing ability allowed France’s attackers to make runs knowing their trusty midfielder would somehow find them.
It was only when Blaise Matuidi made way for Corentin Tolisso that we saw a glimpse of the Pogba from last season. As France looked to hold their lead, Deschamps reverted back to a midfield three, which subsequently freed up Pogba.
Now that Tolisso was there to soak up some of the defensive responsibilities, Pogba could get forward. Here, we found Pogba on the edge of the box a lot more, which is exactly where he was positioned when he scored the goal.
What must Jose do to get the best out of Pogba?
The main difference between Jose Mourinho and Didier Deschamps is their varying levels of trust in the French midfielder.
Mourinho’s main strategy for motivating Pogba comes in the form of public scrutiny. Meanwhile, since even before the tournament began, Deschamps has insistently stood by Pogba’s quality, and continued to start the midfielder despite many questioning the decision.
Having the belief of the gaffer has been a major difference in determining Pogba’s form.
Tactically, however, this World Cup has shown that Pogba’s abilities off the ball are almost as good as on it. Instead of using Marouane Fellaini as the body to break up play, why not use Pogba? He’d do just as well and has the technical ability to match.
United certainly have pace up front, similar to France. They even have their own target man in Lukaku. Their attacks are similarly set up, yet one manager seems hesitant to let his attackers attack.
Either way, having won a World Cup, Pogba will be going into next season with confidence in abundance. This World Cup has taught us the Pogba we all know and love is still there somewhere. However, it’s up to Mourinho to ensure his confidence is maintained.