Paul Pogba announced his return to Manchester United from Italian giants Juventus in August 2016 for a world record fee of £89 million. The Frenchman was set to become the main catalyst under Mourinho’s new regime, but has instead suffered from inconsistency and incessant doubt from his critics. Supporters are still unsure of his role at the club, so what is Paul Pogba’s strongest position for Manchester United?
Pogba is a modern commercialised sports star, who idols are encaptivated by and the old-fashioned supporters detest. On social media, Pogba portrays a 24-year-old that is comfortable in his own skin, humorous and adventurous. However, on the pitch, his role seems somewhat restricted, as the smile disappears, his confidence wavers and his lack of freedom in Mourinho’s over-instructive system is clearer than the light of day.
Jamie Redknapp’s outrageous comments regarding Pogba’s switch to Manchester City benefitting his career has inspired my latest blog post. His comments can be perceived in one of two ways, firstly, that he’s a typical Liverpool pundit attempting to fuel yet another transfer rumour, or whether he’s expertly identified that Mourinho’s system has restricted the attacking freedom of Pogba.
Nemanja Matic was supposedly set to award him with more freedom in the final third, but instead Mourinho’s defensive system has still commanded excessive defensive responsibilities for Paul Pogba to execute. Mourinho handled Eden Hazard in a similar way, by criticising the Belgian on his ability to defend, but once Conte applied a more attacking style, Hazard duly thrived in the system and returned to his free-flowing, exciting and clinical best.
Either Mourinho needs to revert to the attacking system, which led to Manchester United winning six of their opening eight league fixtures, or jeopardize the future of Paul Pogba. In Manchester United’s latest defeat against Newcastle United, The Red Devils relied heavily on Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku to pull the strings. They were simply incapable of exploiting Newcastle United’s stern defence, which was set-up to outnumber Mourinho’s attacking line.
Paul Pogba was clearly carrying a knock for the majority of his 66 minutes on the field and was unable to gage control of the tempo in the midfield area. He was again expected to play as a deep-lying midfielder and Newcastle United comfortably dissected the threat posed by Pogba with the relentless pressure from Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame.
It was painful to endure as a Manchester United supporter, but only one man can be blamed; and that is Jose Mourinho. His system has left many beleaguered, especially considering The Red Devils winning form under an attacking system at the beginning of the season. His decision to employ a defensive brand of football once again during their goal less draw against Liverpool, has ultimately coincided with Manchester United allowing local rivals Manchester City to steamroll their way to the Premier League title. If things don’t change quickly, either their most-prized players or Mourinho will be moving towards the exit door!
How Should Manchester United Set-Up With Paul Pogba?
Manchester United should set-up with their familiar 4-2-3-1 system but play Paul Pogba as a central attacking midfielder, rather than a deep-lying playmaker. Therefore, the Frenchman will have the freedom of the final third, and will be playing to his strengths, as positional awareness is clearly a strong weakness in his game.
By playing as an attacking midfielder he’ll have less defensive responsibilities, especially with Ander Herrera partnering Nemanja Matic in holding midfield.
Matic and Herrera will have the role of breaking up play and acting as an extra barrier of protection in front of the defence, whilst also providing forward balls either down the channels or central to Pogba.
This formation and system would provide great balance to a team that currently lacks stability, efficiency and organization. United have often committed mass numbers in defensive zones, which provides very little threat on the attack. By playing this system, they should be more zonally aware, depending on how Mourinho instructs the players, but also have the numbers to spring on the attack at speed.
Pogba is purely an attacking midfielder and has the ability to dictate the game in the final third. Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku would thrive on Pogba simply utilizing his creativity and spraying his magic to ignite numerous attacks, which are currently not being created in the final third.
The next diagram demonstrates how this system would function in attacking scenarios. Bailly’s return from injury could prove pivotal for Manchester United, as he is seemingly the only leader out of their current list of defenders. I’ve placed Rojo in the starting line-up, as he’s the strongest defender at distributing the ball, which will be key for building attacking situations.
Sir Alex Ferguson built his style on combinations, but with Mourinho playing inward wingers, there is a serious lack of combinative play on the channels. With Pogba portraying a central role, Martial and Sanchez should be able to patrol the channels and form partnerships with full-backs Valencia and Shaw.
With Valencia and Shaw committing forward, they must also show discipline by tracking back regularly, but Matic and Herrera must also fulfil the roles of providing an extra barrier of protection ahead of the defence to cover Valencia and Shaw.
Nemanja Matic would be unable to protect two central defenders as a sole defensive midfielder, which is why I’ve selected Ander Herrera over another attacking component.
Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard have been impressive this season, but the selection is purely tactically related. Next season, the signing of an out-and-out defensive midfielder to partner Matic would perfect Mourinho’s team.
Manchester United have an elite group of players, who’re capable of achieving success at the highest level, it just depends on the brand of football and system that they play under Jose Mourinho. Pogba’s talents are currently being wasted, but by playing with less defensive responsibilities and more attacking freedom, the Frenchman could go onto fulfil his potential and become one of the very best in world football!