When Paul Pogba joined Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, many assumed the team would construct a strategy that was built around him. Unfortunately, that hasn’t quite been the case.
While Pogba shouldn’t be absolved of fault for many of his below average performances since his return to Manchester, the team’s lackluster roster construction has been a glaring issue that has not complimented his skillset very well.
With that said, Pogba is in need of a resurgence in his Manchester United career and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the man that can make that happen.
Before he was even in consideration to take the managerial reigns at United, Solskjaer proclaimed his affinity for Pogba in an interview with Sky Sports.
“I would [build the team around him], absolutely no doubt,” Solskjaer said. “I had him with David [Gray] and Etzaz [Hussain] who is playing for me tomorrow. That just shows how far the kid has come. Paul is a fantastic kid so hopefully we can build the team around him and keep him.”
Building around Pogba should have always been the goal, and now Solskjaer will have the opportunity to finally create a roster that can maximize the 26-year-old Frenchman. Pogba is undoubtedly the team’s most talented player and he has all the tools to be one of the world’s best midfielders.
Pogba has scored 31 goals and provided 29 assists since joining Manchester United, while also being the team’s main ball distributor. When Pogba’s at his best, United transition from defense to offense fluidly and create goal-scoring opportunities. When the Frenchman’s at his worst, he tends to over dribble and lose possession of the ball in the process. Consequently, his worst performances have coincided with the team’s worst games.
The Pogba experience has ultimately been a mixed bag, which is why rumors have begun to surface about a potential exit this summer. While he would still demand a hefty price from potential suitors, which United could use to rebuild their current roster, the team should be keen on keeping Pogba around.
Before the team’s late season collapse this year, United was playing its best football in years. The ball was moving quickly upfield and chances were being created on a consistent basis. It was Manchester United football at its best.
The stretch of games coincided with Pogba’s best form of the season, as he caught fire after he was an unused substitute for José Mourinho in a 3-1 loss to Liverpool.
In a 13-game span after Mourinho was sacked, Pogba scored nine goals and notched seven assists. United didn’t lose a single game in that stretch, as they won 11 and tied two. He was the mastermind behind most of the team’s success, as he was masterfully pulling the strings in the midfield.
While Pogba played a crucial part throughout the undefeated streak, it was Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera’s great play that allowed Pogba to be unlocked. Both Matić and Herrera played the role of ball retrievers, where they managed to win possession of the ball with smart and disciplined defending.
This allowed Pogba to focus more on what he does best: create instant offense. With more opportunities to get out on the break, Pogba was able to create havoc in the open field.
Matić’s form eventually fell off a cliff and Herrera was out due to injury, but the solid sample size of elite play exemplified how good Pogba can be with two steady midfielders alongside him.
With Herrera set to join Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this summer, Solskjaer and Ed Woodward will be hard pressed to find a player that compliments Pogba like the Spaniard did. Herrera’s hustle and tackling ability will be sorely missed, and letting him leave for free may prove to be a mistake if Woodward doesn’t find a proper replacement.
Nevertheless, one issue is clear: Manchester United need to find two quality first team midfielders that can maximize Pogba’s offensive repertoire. The current crop of midfielders have obviously not worked. Matić just isn’t good enough, Fred hasn’t proven to be very useful, and Scott McTominay is still too inexperienced to be trusted with a full-time starting job.
Additionally, United will need to make changes to their defensive structure by adding talented players to the team. At minimum, they need a top-class full-back and center-back, in addition to the aforementioned midfielders.
While some fans may feel Pogba’s days at United are numbered, it’s hard to believe that his tenure with the Red Devils is irredeemable. Getting the best out of him will surely prove to be a positive tactical change, as he’s able to make those around him better when he’s in form. In a season where Ole will look to reinvigorate a fallen giant in Manchester United, maximizing Pogba may be the best path forward.