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Fixing Paul Pogba at Manchester United

How to get the best out of Pogba — by Aishwarya Raj Pandey
How to get the best out of Pogba — by Aishwarya Raj Pandey

His expression after getting subbed off against Tottenham said it all. The dynamic midfielder is clearly not enjoying his football. Whether it be injuries or some sinister punishment from the footballing gods, one thing is clear: Manchester United struggle when Pogba is not playing at his best.

Against Newcastle he looked caught in a never ending paradox of getting forward and tracking back, ending up doing neither. The most expensive player in United's history was dominated by Jonjo Shelvey and company. The partnership of Shelvey and Diame dwarfed him on the pitch winning duels, a stark contrast to his performance against the same opposition in Novermber, 2017 whose stats were something like this:

No wonder Manchester United fans were swooning over their golden boy's performances not so long ago. Fast forward two months and there is talk of him being dispensable with Mourinho subbing him off twice in last two away games. So why is the Frenchman struggling to impose himself on games? Lets try and narrow it down.

1. Change from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1

The transfer of Alexis Sanchez meant that the 4-2-3-1 formation was always going to be favored to accommodate United's firepower. Also it resolved the downright issue of Ander Herrera's injury. Their new year's day victory over Everton was the last time Manchester United started with the 4-3-3 formation.

A look at Paul Pogba's positioning versus Tottenham
A look at Paul Pogba's positioning versus Tottenham

Unsurprisingly it was the last time we saw the talismanic Frenchman absolutely boss proceedings in an away encounter for United. All due respect to Stoke but the Potters have been poor and United's 3-0 victory was an anticlimax of the rut waiting for Pogba.

2. Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba

Unfortunately for Paul Pogba it all started with Jesse Lingard's goal-streak against Watford and Arsenal. The English midfielder ousted Henrikh Mkhitaryan and made the attacking mid-field position his own. Mourinho clearly felt that Lingard operating behind the striker was the way forward for United with Pogba and Matic sitting behind him.

Having Lingard as a No.10, Pogba is restricted at the base of midfield
Having Lingard as a No.10, Pogba is restricted at the base of midfield

“Jesse Lingard is playing so well that Mourinho does not want to drop him, but I do not think that Lingard and Paul Pogba can play together,” Martin Keown said after United’s loss to Spurs in midweek.

“I am not convinced that Mourinho knows his best starting XI. Also, with [Alexis] Sanchez playing wide on the left, it leaves question marks over Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. In the coming weeks, Mourinho is going to have to look closely at his team and their shape.” With Lingard having his best season in a United shirt, it would be interesting to see how Mourinho manages to play them both in a favored attacking midfield position.

3. Team Management vs Player Management by Mourinho

This was what Mourinho had to say when riddled with the question of evaluating Pogba's performance against Newcastle. While Mourinho is no doubt shelving any undue attention from his star man, Pogba is undoubtedly the talisman of his team and amalgamating his contributions might turn things sour in their relationship like it happened between him and Hazard at Chelsea.

The above statement is dangerously similar to the one Mourinho made about Hazard's deteriorating performances for Chelsea in 2014 before ultimately getting sacked by Chelsea. If this is the sign of things to come then surely the clash of two opposite ideologies may result in the dismissal of either one.

Jose is known for creating great teams but his man management skills might be the problem here, especially considering his record against charismatic individuals such as Hazard and Ronaldo.

4. Lack of a Box to Box midfielder at United

The injury to Ander Herrera means United have only Pogba as B2B option
The injury to Ander Herrera means United have only Pogba as B2B option

Michael Carrick does not have the legs to fulfill the box to box role and while United's number 6 has all the tools to succeed in this role, it clearly does not suit him. He is a roamer in the mould of Zidane who likes to make things on the opposite end of the pitch.

Right now he finds himself under a leash with Herrera's injury forcing him to occupy a deeper role. How rosy the things looked when United were dismantling opposition defenses at will in the beginning of the campaign with Matic, Pogba and Mkhitaryan ripping opponents to shreds.

However Herrera's injury and Mkhitaryan's loss in form changed all that and astonishingly no one was brought in January to address this issue. Come the end of the campaign, this might end up costing both United and Pogba. Mourinho needs to find a way to unlock the player we all saw at Juventus or risk his biggest asset on the altars of team-play.