Despite a brilliant start to the season, Manchester United’s performances have lessened over the past month with the absence of midfielder Paul Pogba. It is evident that the club desperately need an alternative to the French superstar.
Manchester United started off the season in fine form collecting several wins by large 4-0 margins, playing the best football the club has played since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
The additions of Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku have worked well, starting off fantastically for the club, but at the heart of United’s short spell of dominance was Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman came under flack last season by many for what was perceived as poor performances, but what was noticed by some was that, when Pogba didn’t play, United’s performances in games declined.
The Red Devils simply couldn’t dominate the midfield. They didn’t have anybody else in the squad aside from Michael Carrick, who could control the game by recycling possession and driving forward with the ball. This was most evident in the Manchester derby, during which United’s were disjointed and struggled to string passing moves together.
This is similar, again, to what is happening at United right now and it is a bigger factor into United’s down turn in form. With Pogba out injured, United are using a midfield duo of Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Two good, but very similar players.
Both Matic and Herrera are defensive minded, neither great technically on the ball and neither capable of doing what Pogba does on the pitch. Likewise, Pogba could not carry out the same role as that of the Serbian or Spaniard.
Pogba is not defensively good. He lacks the positional discipline to do their jobs. Neither of these players are functionally capable of replacing the others in their team. However, since Paul Pogba has come down with an injury, United have deployed Ander Herrera in the ‘creative’ role.
The playmaker, the beating heart of the team. Herrera has been tasked with being the player to link the midfield with the attack, to provide the crucial service to the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku; to link up play with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata.
The issue here is that Herrera isn’t capable of playing in this role, he doesn’t have the flair of Pogba, nor does he have the technical ability to do it. It is the biggest factor behind Herrera’s disappointing form this season. He is not capable of performing to such a role.
Essentially, United have nobody capable of filling that role whenever Pogba is out with an injury, or when he needs to be rested to preserve energy and fitness. Matic and Herrera is a naturally defensive pairing. This can work if a player like Marouane Fellaini is available as you can by-pass the midfield by playing a long balls up to the Belgian.
However, Fellaini, despite his form, can be found out given his rather static movement off the ball and United desperately need to find a player who can do what Pogba does when he is on the pitch. They need a silky, creative, flair midfielder who can dictate the tempo, control the midfield and create the number of chances that the Frenchman does.
This could be where United being linked with Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, as reported by the Mirror, becomes interesting.
If the Old Trafford outfit were to buy the German, they could opt to switch from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 with Ozil being positioned in midfield with Herrera and Matic. This would give him the defensive pairing that would allow the complete freedom to do what he does best.
The Arsenal midfielder is comfortable on the ball. He is one of the best players in the Premier League at creating chances and, with the attacking options of Lukaku, Rashford and Martial, he could certainly perform much better than he does currently at the Emirates Stadium.
While he isn’t the type of player who can dictate the tempo of the game or control the midfield, he does have all the technical abilities to be able to do so, it would merely take a slight adjustment for him to be able to perform to this role.
Meanwhile, another viable option would be Andreas Perreria, who is already a Manchester United player, currently on loan at Valencia.
Perreria has been impressive out on loan for the past two seasons. He is highly creative and processes great technical abilities for a player of his age. However, much like Ozil, he is a player who excels at playing in the number 10 role, but he is still young enough to be retrained into the role of an advanced central midfielder.
Regardless who United bring in, if they do, this isn’t anything new. For several years before Pogba returned to Old Trafford, it was apparent that United played significantly better if Michael Carrick was on the pitch. He was able to control the midfield and dictate the tempo of the game.
Throughout last season, there was plenty of talk regarding United’s need to replace the veteran Englishman with somebody younger and capable of playing more games. It is interesting, and perhaps even naive, that United didn’t opt to go for anybody to offer as an alternative for Pogba, for when he was ruled out with an injury.
Either way, it is hard to see United’s performances going back to how they were at the start of the season, until the France international returns. They are sorely missing his contribution and his driving presence.
Although United should be able to keep winning and keep within touching distance of Manchester City in the title race. They desperately need Pogba to return and it should become apparent to Jose Mourinho that he will need a proper alternative for him in midfield if he wants to compete with Pep Guardiola’s side for the league title.