Just as many supporters have lauded United for re-signing Paul Pogba from Juventus, many argued that United paid in excess for the Frenchman's talents. The arguments of the critics started to make more sense after his recent performances against Man City, Feyenoord and Watford.
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Just as many supporters have lauded United for re-signing Paul Pogba from Juventus, many argued that United paid in excess for the Frenchman's talents. The arguments of the critics started to make more sense after United's first-half performance against Manchester City, though not entirely Pogba's fault, had resulted in United losing the Derby.
The negative comments gathered steam, once United were condemned to consecutive defeats against Feyenoord and Watford, and Pogba had become the prime target for fans and analysts to attribute the defeats to. This is what any high-priced signing dreads. His 89 million price tag, which was until then a badge of his calibre, has suddenly turned into a millstone around his neck.
But a player's success or failure at a club has much to do with the coach. Jose Mourinho is undoubtedly one of the shrewdest minds in modern football, but his initial plans with Pogba had started falling apart even before the Manchester Derby defeat. Pogba's positioning in the game against Hull City was unconvincing as his passing in the final third was clearly off. He hardly troubled the Hull defence and managed to create just one chance from open play in the entire match.
Mourinho's formation of 4-2-3-1 was able to function well for the opening matches, but teams appeared to have found the weak spot after his Derby defeat to Pep Guardiola. The midfield pairing of Pogba with Marouane Fellaini was overrun in the first half of the match against City, and it was similar scenes in the match against Feyenoord where the Frenchman was part of a below-par midfield trio alongside Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin. Feyenoord frustrated United with their stubborn defending allowing little room to navigate, and the frustration among the United players was palpable during the match - even more so on the face of their star signing.
When it was time to avoid a third consecutive defeat against Watford, the midfield pair of Fellaini and Pogba once again failed to deliver the goods, this time more badly, as the visitors were condemned to a 3-1 defeat. Both the central midfielders were nowhere in the picture as Watford scored their first and second goals, and it should be clear for Mourinho now that the midfield partner he chooses for Pogba is going to be crucial for United's fortunes.
At Juventus, Pogba was mostly part of a midfield triangle, which was guarded by wing-backs on either side. Pogba ventured forward into the opposition half while Claudio Marchisio's calculated tackling and Andrea Pirlo's experienced legs plugged away the spaces left behind by their marauding teammate. Even during the 2015-16 season, under Max Allegri, Pogba was backed brilliantly by Marchisio and a confident Sami Khedira in the centre of the park as Juventus fought their way back to the top to claim a fourth straight Serie A title.
But now at United, Mourinho's decision to accommodate both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney in the starting line up means that Pogba's natural game has been stunted. Rooney playing as the No.10 means that he now occupies the spaces that Pogba usually makes his runs near the penalty area. Defensively, Fellaini is neither an accomplished passer nor his tackling can ever be called calculated which makes it hard to cover up for Pogba. Except for his physicality in the box, the Belgian's pairing with Pogba is useless. While Herrera is a good passer and Morgan Schneiderlin is good with his reading of the game, both lack the assurance of an experienced head such as Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger.
That leaves the German or Carrick as the available choices. While the bridges between Jose Mourinho and Schweinsteiger seemed to have been burnt long before even the season started, playing Carrick in the holding midfield role will definitely help Pogba to play his natural game. Carrick's calming influence and ability to play the right pass will help shore up things in the centre of the field for United. And Rooney's poor showing against Watford could also prompt Mourinho to drop the England international and start with Herrera instead, giving Pogba more freedom in the final third.
Additionally, Pogba's perspective after arriving at United also seems to play a part in his poor outings against Watford and Feyenoord. His efforts to take on the entire defence single-handedly has worked against the Frenchman. Paul Scholes recently pointed this issue, saying, “Pogba seems to be a little all over the place at times. I think he's trying to do too much on the ball.” He needs to be reminded that his previous club have romped to four consecutive Serie A titles not just because of his brilliance, but also due to the presence of his other talented teammates. There are many players in the current United squad to take out the opposition defenders like Juan Mata, Antony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney. It is not that he is capable of, but it is better for his team that Pogba leaves the job to the people who are assigned for it.
The reasons being quite evident, it is ridiculous that Pogba's attitude or his professionalism are cited as reasons for this temporary slump in form. His hairstyles and dab celebrations have never got in the way of his performances on the pitch nor did any internet trolls or the racist chants from the opposition fans in Italy stop him from scoring spectacular long range goals at Juventus.
Recently, Jose Mourinho defended the huge price tag on his star player, saying,“I think there are clubs that paid 20, 30, 40 [million pounds] which is a bigger deal than what Man United paid for Paul”.
But it is time that the Portuguese manager needs to drive some sense into his statements by making useful changes to his line-up in order to bring the best out of his trusted midfielder. And a word or two from senior players in the United dressing room, most likely Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick will be enough to remind the 23-year old that he does not need to play multiple roles on the pitch. Some time spent on analysing his line-up from his manager and few good words from people around him should bring back the Pogba everyone wanted to see.