Manchester United are misusing Paul Pogba: The case for a midfield trio
The French Midfielder needs to be liberated from defensive responsibility to cause havoc, as he did during his spell at Juventus.
Paul Pogba has come under the microscope following the 2-0 defeat against Tottenham at Wembley but Manchester United need to start playing to his strengths to get the best out of the French talisman.
Pogba was substituted by Jose Mourinho at Wembley a week ago after getting questioned over his defensive positioning on the touchline by his manager. Mourinho even poured fuel onto the fire by dropping him for Scott McTominay against Huddersfield on Saturday. Evidently Manchester United were quite bland in the first-half with two holding midfielders and significantly improved once Pogba emerged as a substitute in the 64th minute.
Where has Pogba gone wrong?
Nemanja Matic has also lost the spark and energy showcased during the first half of the season after sustaining a muscular injury. However, the scrutiny is always going to be on United's most expensive signing as Paul Pogba is the player with the ability to drive Manchester United's midfield by himself.
It is quite clear that things have changed a bit. Mourinho defended his star midfielder staunchly just a month ago after Manchester United legend Paul Scholes criticized Pogba for "just strolling through games". Pogba had just played an influential role when employed in a midfield three at Goodison Park and Mourinho launched an astonishing response as he hit out at Scholes. This game against Everton served as the timely reminder that Pogba is 'at his best' in a midfield three.
Jose Mourinho has been reluctant to switch to 4-3-3 from the start of the season when United's midfield was bulldozed by Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. The United manager even tried to play Pogba as the play-maker later but soon realized his mistake as Pogba seemed inconsequential in this role.
Pogba at Juventus
At Juventus, Pogba played his best football on the left of a three-man midfield, working off the surging forward runs of Patrice Evra and attacking the channels from deep to pick defences apart with passing or take the ball past his markers with his dribbling.
The Old Lady, under managers Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, often switched between a 4-3-1-2 and 3-5-2 system with Pogba almost always playing on the left of that midfield somewhere he excelled to devastating effect.
Another 'Class of 92' member, Ryan Giggs has also advocated for playing Paul Pogba in the three-man midfield:
"One of the best games Pogba had was the Everton game [2-0 win on January 1], when he was on the left of Matic – in a similar position to the one he played at Juventus – and Ander Herrera was on the right. I think that position where he is on the left of a midfield three is where he is at his best,” club legend Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports recently.
Although Mourinho recalled Herrera for the September trip to Stoke City - the additional midfielder proved to be excessive against a side which were sitting in 18th position and had won just six of their 26 Premier League matches.
Midfield trio to triumph
Manchester United are going to face Chelsea at Old Trafford on February 25, four days after United travel to Sevilla for their Champions League round-of-16 first leg, and that week is undeniably their biggest of the campaign so far and could prove pivotal for their season.
Those are the occasions when Herrera is required and Pogba should occupy his favoured left midfield role. With the presence of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera alongside him, Pogba will be liberated to roam further forward on the pitch and support the forward line without the burden of defensive responsibility.
Nemanja Matic might have sufficed as the sole holding midfielder during Manchester United's stellar start to the season but additional cover is required as the season progresses - especially against top-six rivals or during an European away knockout tie.