It might be crazy to wonder whether someone who cost Manchester United 89 million pounds is headed for a breakout year, but that’s precisely where we are with Paul Pogba.
The French international has had a very commanding, consistent display at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and one can’t help but wonder why the consistency is showing for France when it alluded him all season at United.To begin to answer the question, we must look at his season and experience in Manchester.
When at Juventus, Pogba was surrounded by very solid and experienced midfielders such as Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and of course, Andrea Pirlo. Massimiliano Allegri also did a great job of keeping the pressure off of Pogba, something he could afford to do because of the depth he had at the midfield position.
Pogba was able to get forward more for Juventus due to the cover he received from Vidal and others. This is the main reason why his attacking production was better at Juventus.
He was also not the main focus of the opposing defenses and did not contain the pressure that he has now because of his price tag. When he returned to United, all of this change.
All eyes were immediately on Pogba. At the time, it was the most expensive transfer in history. He handled the pressure well in his first season, scoring 9 goals in 51 appearances in all competitions and helping United to the Europa League title.
The pressure might have been less in that season, as United had just hired Jose Mourinho and were rebuilding. In 2017/18, however, all of that changed as United were thought to be viable challengers for the Premier League title.
The signing of Nemanja Matic should have helped Pogba perform better offensively this season. The Serbian is a defensive minded midfielder who could cover for Pogba and allow him to get more forward, but the results just weren’t there.
Pogba missed two months due to injury and was never the same after. He himself has made comments about how he is viewed differently than other midfielders, and that he is judged off of goals and assists when that isn’t the case for others in his position. Inconsistency plagued him and he did not enjoy a positive spell at United.
Then came the World Cup and Pogba has looked a totally different player. While he has not produced much offensively in Russia, he has looked much more consistent and mature. With France’s fire power up front, it seems as if Pogba has accepted that he does not need to be a key component in attack.
Pogba’s main role in France has been to compliment N’Golo Kante in the midfield and control the tempo from the midfield. He has done that brilliantly. He is a main reason why France is playing in the final thanks to his defensive cover and his smart decision making when he has the ball at his feet.
Tactically, he has been brilliant all tournament and this is surely a welcome sign for Jose Mourinho.
The lack of pressure on him at France thanks to the likes of Kylian M’Bappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and others has put Pogba at ease. The question is, will this continue at Manchester United in the upcoming season?
Pogba has to bring the maturity with him to Old Trafford. If a light-bulb turned on, and he has finally realized that he does not have to be United’s main attacking threat he will have a great season. He has to be less concerned with statistics and more concerned with providing defensive cover and controlling the game.
The arrival of Fred will also be a key component for Pogba. Fred is a box to box midfielder who provides defensive cover but also gets forward very well. Fred, along with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard up front (among others), can do the attacking while Pogba provides the defensive cover and controls the tempo. Smart decision making will be key in order for the Frenchman to have a standout season in Manchester.
He will still have his opportunities to get forward and score the sensational goal that we’ve become accustomed to, but his main focus has to be bringing the same mentally and tactical style to United that he’s been displaying for France.
In 2018/19, Paul Pogba has to mature. He has to realize that United don’t need him to be the main attacking threat from midfield. He has to understand that the goals won’t matter as much. The simple fact is that the 89 million pound investment United made would be well worth it if Pogba brought more simplicity to his game.
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