After a contentious domestic campaign that saw the superstar’s value increase and decrease after each match, Paul Pogba is determined to silence “experts” and become France’s national hero in the same tournament. Les Bleus opened their World Cup campaign with an unconvincing 2-1 victory over Australia. Didier Deschamps men fared better than most of the other expected favorites this weekend, and they have goal-line and VAR technology to thank for that feat.
Desperate to become the Napoleon of his national team, Pogba delivered the perfect response to critics for France’s first showing on Russian turf. After setting up teammate Antoine Griezmann for the penalty kick that would put Les Bleus up a goal, the midfielder opened up his own scoring bank by nabbing the winning goal in the 80th minute. Even if his chip shot was later changed to an Aziz Behich own goal, Pogba was everywhere he needed to be in order for France to walk away with three points and control of Group C.
Much like the expectations set by his manager during the Red Devils’ recent Premier League and Champions League spells, Deschamps will be looking for Pogba to be an offensive powerhouse and control the tempo of the match. While capitalizing on set pieces will be an added benefit, Pogba’s form will ultimately be the difference between exiting group play undefeated or cause for concern in the next round.
France fans have every reason to be miffed with Pogba. In the friendlies leading up to the big dance, the former Juventus man was less than stellar in the middle. Earlier this month against Italy, Pogba not only failed to land on the scoresheet, but his form was a serious cause for concern. Following a misplaced pass that triggered several jeers from the stands, Pogba’s reaction to being subbed late in the second half by Steven N’zonzi wasn’t indicative of a team player. Despite walking away with a 3-1 victory against Roberto Mancini’s side, the conversation as expected shifted to whether the United star was a reliable threat to opponents on the pitch.
Despite conflicting reports, it was never in question whether Pogba would be dropped from the squad, and his performance this weekend proves just how indispensible he is to his boss and teammates. In that dreadful Italy match, Pogba provided more defensive assistance than offensive help, which has not always generated his best performances in club or country play. However, if his boss remains confident in his ability to bounce back from a sour performance, then so should the French fans and the troublesome critics eagerly waiting for his demise.
In the right formation, he is destined to be the gamechanger for France’s side. Under Deschamp’s preferred 4-4-2 arrangement, Pogba’s midfield looks overrun, consequently leading to a loss in structure and even worse, confusion as to who owns the offensive duties. On Saturday, 4-3-3 was the ultimate lineup, and that proved all the best for not only Pogba, but also France’s entire XI. This structure allows for more counter-attacks, which this team is exceptionally well at doing. Here at The Busby Babe, I’ve routinely discussed that a 4-3-3 setup means that Pogba would play a leading role in several goalscoring scenarios. Now, one player shouldn’t dictate an entire lineup in the slightest. However, if Pogba is the nucleus to France booking a finals appearance in Moscow, then at the very least any tactics that guarantees more balls in the back of the net should be employed.
He might be competing with Dembélé, Mbappe and Griezmann for title of the most famous player on the French national squad, but there’s no denying the impact Paul Pogba will have for his side in Russia. Manchester United’s most expensive player’s form will inevitably improve as his side progress through World Cup competition. If Didier Deschamps can successfully use his star midfielder’s strengths to his entire team’s advantage, critics will have nothing else to moan about other than Pogba’s hairstyles, which are always a tired, last ditch attempt to undermine the Frenchman’s efforts on and off the pitch.