“I would [build the team around him], – Paul is a fantastic kid so hopefully we can build the team around him and keep him.”
The words of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer months prior to taking over as interim when the prospect of managing Manchester United was nothing but a pipe dream. Now, three years later, with Paul Pogba playing some of his best football in a red shirt, Solskjaer is living up to his promise.
Paul Pogba signed for Manchester United in August 2016 with high hopes and even higher ambitions to take United back to the summit of English football. His time back at Old Trafford has been turbulent, to say the least and his best playing position has added to the chaos. Since putting pen to paper there’s been much debate as to what his best position actually is.Embed from Getty Images
During his first season at the club, the Frenchman played in a deep defensive midfield pivot, fulfilling the number 6 on the back of his shirt. In later seasons, Pogba could be seen playing on the left side of a midfield three but still, his performances remained far from consistent. The question remained: What is Paul Pogba’s best position?
Pogba has always been a player that has required “unlocking” as his quality in possesion is just too great to not utilise in advanced areas. However, the midfielder has an almost deceptive physique and size which forces the narrative that he should be an enforcer in deeper areas. But his ability on the ball almost contradicts his size as his quick feet and flair would probably be better suited to a player much more diminuitive in stature.Embed from Getty Images
When fit, Solskjaer has been toying with Pogba in an inside left position that can be best described as a left attacking midfielder. Many pundits have likened his current position to the one he played in his days with Juventus. During his time in Italy, with the likes of Arturo Vidal, and Andrea Pirlo holding, Pogba had the freedom of the left-hand side to get forward and make things happen. His freedom on that side is probably why his time with the Bianconeri was a highlight reel of long-range goals and ridiculous skill.
Solskjaer has allowed the 28-year-old to take up a similar role this season. United’s first goal against Roma embodied the tweak in Pogba’s positioning as he received the ball in the left channel, used trickery to get past a couple of defenders and found Cavani who could then slip in Bruno Fernandes.Embed from Getty Images
The World Cup winner himself spoke about his own position recently, telling BT Sport: “I always love to be in front, but with my body, my abilities and everything, if I can do both [defend and attack], why not?
“But I always want the ball, to touch the ball, be there to make the last pass, third pass, assist, shot header and as well to be there defensively I can do it.
“I would prefer to be further [forward] but that doesn’t depend one. As long as I play that’s all that matters.”
After conceding his third penalty of the season vs. Roma trying to defend, Pogba is probably better suited to playing further forward. The midfielder jokingly admitted after the game that: “I don’t know how to tackle – why should I tackle? That’s my problem! I try to tackle and be the English guy.
“I need to practise more. I need to practise to tackle without arms. It’s unlucky. I’ve been unlucky a lot this season with penalties.Embed from Getty Images
His manager though deserves great credit for his renaissance in form, however, Solskjaer has found a formula that allows both Pogba and Fernandes to combine and cause problems for the opposition. The Frenchman now has a fellow creator that is on his same wavelength that in turn benefits the team as a whole. The burden of creation is no longer solely on Pogba’s back.
Solskjaer has also built a secure enough unit to ensure the two can flourish. Despite their criticism for not being the greatest footballers on the eye, there is no doubt Fred and Scott McTominay provide a rigid platform to allow the forward thinkers to turn on the style.
How long United’s marriage with Pogba lasts is another question. But Solskjaer has practised what he preached. The team is finally showing glimpses of the unit Pogba has always needed to thrive.