When Paul Pogba’s services were no longer needed at Juventus and he was purchased by Manchester United for 89 million pounds, a huge level of expectation was on his shoulders to live up to his then world-record price tag.
Pogba has been fantastic at times, but also a mere image of himself at times for Manchester United. His inconsistencies in a United shirt spark much debate around the footballing world of whether he is worth the price tag, and what really is the best way to unlock his full potential after the dazzling display’s he put out for his country France in the most recent World Cup in Russia.
Let’s take a look at the differences between how Didier Deschamps (France Head Coach) and José Mourinho (Manchester United Head Coach) play Pogba in their squads:
At the World Cup, Deschamps opted to go for a 4-2-3-1 formation to really utilise the pace and flair of the French line-up. With Kylian Mbappe on the right side of the midfield three, Antoine Griezmann playing centrally and Blaise Matuidi patrolling the left, this left Pogba and N’Golo Kanté holding the midfield as an immovable partnership.
Although this was the suspected formation to start, Pogba really flourished in this system. He was given free reign to push forward at will and play a solid box-to-box game. He could do this as Kanté would sit in front of the defenders and protect them. It was almost like France in-game turned into a 4-1-4-1 formation that proved to be deadly. In this style, Pogba shone as the player we all knew he could be and the superstar talent that he is.
His stats may not show that he had much of an impact throughout the tournament (1 goal, 0 assists). But Pogba’s ability to break up play, take control of the ball, set-up play and advance the ball forward with numerous key passes that set up goals really highlighted how elite he is as a footballer when given a free role to play his natural game. He was a major creative part in France going all the way to win the World Cup.
At the start and for most of the 2017-2018 English Premier League season, José Mourinho opted to also play a 4-2-3-1 formation. He had Romelu Lukaku leading the line, Juan Mata playing from the right of the midfield three, Henrik Mkhitaryan playing a free roaming central role and Marcus Rashford playing in from the left side. Pogba would play as a part of two defensive holding midfielders with Nemanja Matic.
Mourinho likes his teams to be defensively sound throughout, and this is where the criticism would come in, especially for Pogba. In the first few games of the season we saw Pogba playing with the flair and freedom we are accustomed to with the French national team. However, Mourinho then changed his tactics with a difficult run of games ahead. This meant Pogba was limited to a mere defensive role and was restricted from going forward as much as he would like to when he is at his best.
This is where the inconsistencies would come in. Pogba looked lost at times and unsure when to push forward and when to hold back. It meant he was not able to play his natural type of football. It also seemed to cause a rift between Pogba and Mourinho and it wasn’t looking good at times.
Only after the acquisition of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in the January transfer window did Mourinho change from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3. This allowed Pogba to finally get the freedom he wanted playing on the left side of the midfield three with Sanchez playing on the left-wing up in the attacking third. In this formation, Pogba would be shackled no more and was able to play his best football. The results were almost immediate, highlighted by him scoring two goals against league-winners Manchester City to seal a 3-2 comeback win. That performance was a catalyst for the positive football he played at season’s end.
The Final Word
So after comparing and contrasting the two styles between the Pogba for France and the Pogba for Manchester United, it’s clear that he is at his best when he is given a role in midfield where he is able to have free reign to move around the pitch as he pleases. This allows him to play key passes and be a goal-scoring threat, whether it be on the left side of a midfield three in a 4-3-3 or playing centrally in a 4-2-3-1 and being able to move forward at will.
The key to unlocking Pogba is simple – just let him play football and give him the freedom to be an attacking threat. Then he will live up to the price tag that has been set next to his name. It’s been shown that if he is given free reign, good results come your way.
As the 2018-2019 English Premier League season is on the horizon, it’s over to you now Mourinho.