A little less than three weeks back, I wrote a scathing piece on Paul Pogba. It was one of the worst performances I have seen by a Manchester United midfielder. The Frenchman was all kinds of dire against Valencia at the Mestalla and I didn’t want to hold back. A lot has happened since then: Jose Mourinho was sacked, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in and Pogba has looked every bit the midfielder we spent £89m in the summer of 2016. One of the high points of his recent rejuvenation came against Bournemouth on Sunday evening. Pogba bossed the show and showed his true qualities.
A tactical analysis of his performance and the statistics will more or less confirm, the shackles are off for him. We are suddenly realising that Manchester United have a World Cup winner in the squad.
The Abundance of Pogba’s Performance
Jose Mourinho allegedly called Pogba a virus towards the end of his time at Manchester United. He was deemed a bad influence on the dressing room and young players. While there could be a spectre of truth in all those, it is clear Pogba can be a huge positive influence when given the license to play his football.
The former Manchester United manager tried everything to get the best out of Pogba before giving up. But it seems more than midfield combinations and tactics, the Frenchman just needed a better man-manager. Solskjaer has been true to his word and he is trying to build the game around Pogba’s considerable talents.
It is clear that Solskjaer has more or less pinpointed the most obvious thing about Pogba: he is more influential in the final third than the defensive third. The caretaker boss has simply played Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic as the sitting midfielders while giving the Frenchman the license to thrill.
Only Luke Shaw had more touches on the ball against Bournemouth than Pogba against Bournemouth. The Frenchman’s heat-map clearly indicates that he is playing much further up the pitch. Manchester United are also playing a higher line due to Solskjaer’s insistence on pressing. This has allowed Pogba to play further up the field as well despite the system being more or less similar to Mourinho’s.
One of the key criticisms of Pogba under Mourinho was he dilly-dallied on the ball a bit too much. That is no longer the case under the new manager. But why? Simple, he has more options to play forward. The one-touch passing amongst the front four and midfield has been the hallmark in the last three games. Therefore, Pogba seems more in-tune and playing a quicker brand of football. He still maintained a pass percentage close to 90.
His attacking numbers against Bournemouth were nothing less than outstanding. The Frenchman was the top attacker for the Red Devils on every metric possible. It was, what we call, a virtuoso performance by an attacking midfielder.
The Marauding Runs
Pogba always has the ability to score 15 goals a season from midfield. He is finally being allowed to play in a way where he would be able to increase his numbers. The Frenchman has been playing higher up the pitch under Solskjaer and he also has the license to attack the opposition box all the time.
His two goals were the result of those runs into the penalty box off the ball. Marcus Rashford deserves all the credit for creating the first goal out of nothing. But the Frenchman was in the right place to finish off the move. Pogba also showed how difficult it is to defend against him when he makes one of those late runs for the second goal. It was almost to mark the Frenchman when Ander Herrera produced a pinpoint cross from the right-hand channel.
Both the goals were down to Pogba being a little higher up the pitch and his ability to arrive into penalty boxes. He is a huge unit and is mightily uncomfortable for defenders. The Frenchman, when unleashed, has the ability to produce the numbers that great goalscoring midfielders can.
Can Pogba Sustain This Form?
Manchester United were under a serious threat of losing Pogba if Jose Mourinho stayed. The Frenchman has shown that he is good enough to build a side around and that he is enjoying his football again. But he needs to sustain this form and maintain this level. The latter half of this season could be the making of Pogba’s career at Manchester United. Solskjaer has provided the platform to the midfielder to showcase his talents. It is up to him to repay the manager with consistency.
He has produced the numbers against Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth: not the best of Premier League sides. The real test of the Pogba rejuvenation will come against Tottenham in January. Other than a second-half performance against Manchester City last season, he has rarely stamped his mark on a big game. A trip to Wembley to face Spurs in January in 2018 was the beginning of the end of the relationship between the France international and Mourinho. The Frenchman needs to boss a big game in order to win over some of his critics.
Solskjaer will also look at Pogba to produce against Paris Saint-Germain in February. The midfielder was snubbed in favour of SCOTT MCTOMINAY against Sevilla last season. He has the chance to prove Mourinho wrong if he manages to bring out his best against the French champions in the Champions League last 16.
The next few months are big for Pogba and his Manchester United career. Solskjaer is likely to return to Molde in the summer and the next manager must see and believe that he can build his team around the Frenchman. His performance and influence in the last three games have been huge. It is up to him to now produce it week-in-week-out and make the £89m look small. Pogba has the makings of a future Manchester United great. He needs to remind everyone again he is much more than just shirt shales, emojis and dance moves. He is a proper baller.
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