Creativity is an attribute that wins football matches and in the case of Paul Pogba, he didn’t have as much of an imaginative impact on Sunday’s win over Wolves because of his position.
United came away with the three points courtesy of a brilliant finish from 19-year-old Mason Greenwood. But manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shocked supporters with his initial line-up.
Daniel James started on the right, whilst Jadon Sancho was positioned as a left-sided winger, which meant that Pogba was back in the middle of the pitch.
Similar to his position for France, Pogba found himself in the box-to-box role, sitting alongside Fred.
With Raphael Varane making his debut for the club, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt United had more freedom to be attacking in the middle of the park, so Pogba was given the licence to perform.
In the opening two games of the season, Pogba started on the left of United’s attack and had a free role, being allowed to drift towards the centre of the 18-yard-box. This was ultimately an effective tactic, as he provided five assists.
However, he struggled to really get into the game at Molineux.
Perhaps he had to adjust. Maybe he just had a bad day. The truth is that Pogba, so far this season (and for much of last), looks better utilised off the left as opposed to the deeper midfield role.
It seems reasonable to say that Pogba should be used to playing in that position. After all, he impressed there during Euro 2020 and scored one of the goals of the tournament from that position.
In fairness to Pogba, throughout the second half of Sunday’s match, he got himself more involved and started to thread some wonderful first-time balls over the top into the path of United’s attackers.
Once the forward line began to run in between the channels, Pogba started to enjoy the opportunity to make those forward passes and that was a problem for United during the opening 45 minutes.
Interestingly, when comparing some of the statistics, Pogba’s numbers vary from his opening matches according to how defensive he was playing in the game yesterday. Therefore, it was expected that he’d be more conservative in his approach against Wolves compared to the previous two fixtures.
So, on the defensive side of things, Pogba performed better than against Leeds and Southampton.
He won more aerial duels (100 per cent) than in the opening two league games (43 per cent vs Leeds and 0 vs Southampton) and made an increase in interceptions (five compared to three against Leeds and one against Southampton), showing his all-round abilities.
However, it’s clear Pogba is dangerous when you get him involved in the attacking aspect of the game.
It’s in the final third where he makes an impact and with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Solskjaer may be rethinking where to position the Frenchman to get the best out of United’s new striker.
Portuguese international Ronaldo will want players who can feed him and Pogba will be able to provide that of the left more effectively than in a deeper position.
Certainly, against Leeds and Southampton, Pogba was more functional.
He completed more dribbles in those games (five vs Leeds and eight vs Southampton) than he did against Wolves (four), while also producing a higher long pass percentage (100 and 86) than at Molineux (56).
Pogba had a higher expected goals tally than he did on Sunday too, so his influence on the game is greater when you position him in the attacking zones.
Fan Brands – Man United
You may notice this piece of writing has been produced by a name you’re not familiar with on our regular Manchester United content.
That is because we are expanding our horizons and starting to bring even more to you from a whole host of different voices. We have appointed a whole host of people who – like our journalists – care deeply about what’s happening at Old Trafford – but sit in the stands rather than the press box.
We want to give you raw, authentic fan voices about the big issues at Man United – which is why the story you have read today might sit on the Manchester Evening News for now, and is part of the MEN family, but is not representative of those who work there full time.
Keep your eyes peeled for more info on where you can read more from this author in the future. But in the meantime, we hope you enjoy what they have written.
There are pros and cons, of course.
The big plus is that Solskjaer has a huge amount of depth in his attacking positions and can rotate.
As we saw against Wolves, Sancho may need some time to adapt to the league and will need to slowly cement his place in the team.
With the acquisition of Ronaldo, Solskjaer will know he has to get the ball into the box and the best way to do that is to get as many creative players as possible around him. Pogba is one of them.
On the other hand, it’s a dilemma for Solskjaer because it was expected that Pogba would occupy the number eight role when Marcus Rashford returned to full fitness on the left-hand side of the front three. Once he returns, where else is Pogba going to fit? It’s a tricky situation.
Commonly, it’s been known for some time that Pogba needs a specialist defensive midfielder next to him in a midfield pivot to perform at his best. At the moment, he doesn’t have that at United. Donny van de Beek finds himself in a similar position.
To get the best out of Pogba he needs to be in the final third, but whether he can do that as a number eight, with United’s current midfield options, is unclear.
Follow our new United Fan Brands writer Omar Garrick on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts on the title race following the signing of Ronaldo in the comments section below.