Have Manchester United found the midfield to get the best out of Paul Pogba?
When Paul Pogba re-signed for Manchester United, in a world record transfer deal, many fans, and main sponsors Adidas, were hoping the Frenchman would return and hit the ground running.
Yet Pogba, who has often found himself in a defensive midfield, has struggled for form so far this season. Many have alluded to the fact that a midfield three would give Pogba more freedom, and therefore allow him to show his talents, than when he’s placed in a defensive two.
Another hindrance to Pogba’s performances has been his midfield partner. Marouane Fellaini has been given a prominent first team role in an effort to make fans see another side to the Belgian. Mourinho was keen to get the best out of Fellaini. However, he hasn’t got the defensive discipline to fulfil his role in a defensive midfield two.
Evident in the Manchester derby, Pogba and Fellaini don’t have the connection or a complimentary set of characteristics to function in the midfield together, especially if Pogba is to be allowed an expansive box-to box-role. Furthermore, the chances Liverpool created on Monday night mostly came from Fellaini, who has only won 38% of his tackles this season, being out of position.
Pogba has played seven games in the Premier League so far, but his best appearance came in the Europa League fixture against Fenerbache. Here he was deployed in defensive two, but found himself with a new midfield partner, Michael Carrick.
Carrick, who has only played 13 minutes of Premier League football this season, played 90 minutes against Fenerbache and earned rave reviews for his performance. Next to the record signing Paul Pogba, he provided the stability and control an expressive player like the Frenchman needs beside him.
Carrick reminded fans of his passing abilities with a beautiful pass to Juan Mata who controlled the ball before being clattered in the box. His discipline in front of the defence allowed Pogba to roam around the field, the Frenchman joined United’s attacks and had a large effect on the game.
Having played such little football this season, Carrick slotted into the midfield like he’d been there forever and controlled the tempo of the game, dropping into the middle of the defence to collect the ball before spraying the passes around – his first thought was always to go forward.
Owen Hargreaves compared the Englishman, who completed 93% of his passes against Fenerbache, to the Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo. Fans have followed up Hargreaves praise by calling on Carrick to start against Chelsea on Sunday.
Pogba’s third midfield partner this season has been Ander Herrera. The Spaniard has started only three Premier League games this season but played excellently against Liverpool on Monday night, breaking up attacks and putting tackles in all over the pitch.
The former Bilbao man has stated his aim of becoming United’s very own Sergio Busquets, yet this ambition could clash with Carrick’s play style. If Mourinho was to use Carrick as the holding midfielder, Herrera may be employed in a right central midfield position, with Pogba on the left, and the Spaniard may act as United’s N’Golo Kante.
Herrera has completed 100% of his take-ons this season and would form a solid connection with his good friend Juan Mata who has appeared on the right for the majority of his United career. Going forward, Herrera would provide similar drive to Pogba and a creative ability to unlock defences.
With both Carrick and the aforementioned Spaniard suiting Pogba’s play style, both could be used in rotation. Nonetheless, Pogba suits the left-central-midfield role better than anyone in the world, so it makes sense to accommodate him in a midfield three, in order to get the best out of him.
The Frenchman showed his ability to come in from the left midfield role with the third goal against Fenerbache. Roaming in from a spacious area, Pogba picked up Jesse Lingard’s lay-off to curl the ball into the top corner. He also demonstrated his comfort on the left by carrying the ball into the centre of the pitch, finding Rooney with a crisp pass who set Lingard up for 4-0.
Mourinho has called for people to allow Pogba time to “settle in”, yet if the Portuguese man was to use a midfield three, with Carrick holding and Herrera as a box to box midfielder, the record signing may just find his feet sooner than expected. Subsequently, Mourinho will be left reaping the rewards of his ‘Pogba-accomodating’ 4-3-3 tactic.
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