Manchester United have suffered their worst start to a league season in 33 years and it’s not difficult to see the problems facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. Their 3-1 win over Norwich on Sunday evening has paved over the cracks for the struggling Red Devils, as they scored more than once in a game for the first time since the opening day of the season against Chelsea.
The victory came at an important time for United as they looked to build on a promising performance that saw them earn a point against arch-rivals Liverpool, followed by an away win in Belgrade. With key players Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka recently returning from injury, Solskjaer’s side is nearly back to full strength with the exception of one man.
The absence of Paul Pogba is one that has been sorely missed by fans and the team alike. Without the French playmaker, United have been desperate for creativity and forward-thinking players after netting only 13 times in 10 games, a record which sees them ranked 9th for number of goals scored, sitting behind Burnley and newly-promoted Aston Villa.
United’s lack of goals roots from the midfield, with hot prospect Scott McTominay being utilised as a box-to-box to break up play and move the team forward, rather than to pick locks in opposition defences. Despite being one of the team’s most promising players this season, Solskjaer has yet to find a consistent central midfield pairing for the Scot with the absence of Pogba.
What does Pogba bring to the table?
Although registering only two assists and failing to get on the scoresheet in his five appearances this season (transfermarkt), what Pogba brings to this lacklustre United team is fluidity, invention, and a little swagger. He has the x-factor his team are desperately missing and is arguably the most influential player at the club, on and off the pitch.
No player in a United shirt has registered more passes (73.6) or key passes (2.6) per game than the talisman. He also ranks first for number of through balls per game and second only to Marcus Rashford for assists, despite only featuring a handful of times (WhoScored). His eye-of-the-needle passes have been missed by forwards Daniel James and Marcus Rashford who have found themselves frustrated and unable to utilise their pace with a lack of quality service from the middle of the park.
Counter-attacking football appears to be the style Solskjaer wants his team to adopt with nobody more adept at playing this role than Pogba. Fellow Frenchman Martial is the only man to have more successful dribbles this season, a stat which is important when you look at how United are trying to play. With a solid looking defence and rapid forwards, there needs to be a player capable of linking the two aspects together. Pogba’s ability to run with the ball at pace and shrug off challenges is unrivalled at United, a trait which aids the transition from defence to attack. The final goal in the 4-0 win over Chelsea was a perfect execution of this as he broke from midfield, running at pace to tee up James’ debut goal.
It’s been argued for years whether Pogba is best suited as a deep-lying playmaker or a ‘number 10’ in behind the striker. However, what is non-disputable, is that the physios at Old Trafford must get him fit, and keep him fit for the duration of the season if United have any hope of breaking back into the top four and regaining a place in the Champions League. Ranking first for: goals, assists, passes and shots in the last campaign (Premier League) is a sign of just how impactful Pogba can be, and United fans will be hopeful he can be the missing piece in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s puzzle.