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The Tactical Minute: Did Paul Pogba “down tools” for Manchester United in 2018-19?

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The popular narrative is that Pogba (among others) stopped playing for Mourinho. Is it actually true?

Berner Sport Club Young Boys v Manchester United - Champions League Photo by Sebastien Bozon/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Anyone who’s followed my writing for some time knows that my MO is going after narratives and bad punditry. Narrative isn’t bad per se — it’s part of what makes the Premier League so entertaining and has significantly contributed to the league’s growth — but narrative tends to lead to bad and lazy punditry.

We shouldn’t fully blame the pundits for this. People whose job it is to follow all 20 Premier League clubs and then some will never be as knowledgeable as those who solely focus on one particular club.

So when pundits prepare for a broadcast featuring a club, the narrative surrounding it tends to shape their preparations and they try to gear conversation towards that narrative. That leads to problems, as every time this happens the public perception of the narrative moves further from opinion and closer to fact. Given enough time and exposure, many fans come to see the narrative as fact.

Case in point. Paul Pogba’s performances have been the under the microscope ever since he returned to Manchester United, but never more so than last season where everything he did on and off the pitch was questioned.

For example, take this goal that United conceded against Everton.

Sky Sports commentator Alan Smith kept blaming Pogba for letting Richarlison get that ridiculous shot off. It was only after seeing the replay four or five times that he said “oh, Pogba is nowhere near this, that’s [Victor] Lindelöf.” His default was just to blame Pogba.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, I have to figure out where I’m going with these Tactical Minute videos. My thing has always been take the narrative and contrast it with the facts of what’s actually happening on the field (and use the data). Hence all the GIFs. My original plan was to take my tactical analysis pieces for each game, and make quick tactical minute videos on them.

That idea is not going to be possible because the Premier League (and UEFA) is so damn strict about any of their content being uploaded to YouTube (just trying to give you free advertising, guys).

Those video restrictions make things a little difficult for me, since not everything can be reflected in just the numbers — some of it has to be seen. When I say things like “when Paul Pogba was played in a more advanced role, the midfield struggled to move the ball forward,” that’s not going to debunk any narrative unless you actually see that this is what I’m talking about.

Luckily the Premier League doesn’t seem to care about GIFs, so the good news (if you’re a fan of the Tactical Analysis pieces) is that those aren’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean I plan on ditching the videos either — just need to figure out the best way to go about it.

Anyway, here’s the second Tactical Minute. Hope you enjoy it, and as always, all feedback is greatly appreciated.

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