Peter Staunton of Goal.com attempts an analysis of Paul Pogba’s progress under Manchester United coach, Jose Mourinho with strong references to the derby loss against arch rivals, Manchester City.
From minute one it was clear that Manchester United were never going to be able to compete with Manchester City in a football sense in Saturday’s derby defeat. Pep Guardiola’s team are far closer to the version he’d like than is true for Jose Mourinho and United.
All Mourinho could do was return to the methods which drew ire and blood during those infamous Clasico battles of yore. He asked his men to be more aggressive after dropping two goals behind.
There were bookings for untidy, sometimes violent, tackles on the part of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney.
At one stage – after Paul Pogba had come off second best in a 50-50 – Jose turned to his bench, clenched his teeth and smashed the fist of one hand into the palm of the other. He was pleading for more – it was a derby, after all – for more desire to win the tackle, more commitment, and more body-on-the-line football in the middle.
That sums up the conundrum Mourinho currently has with Pogba. He has bought a Formula 1 car but would appear to want to drive it around a destruction derby.
Mourinho complained after the match about some of his players being overawed by the occasion; don’t expect, for example, Henrikh Mkhitaryan to start many more matches of importance this side of Christmas. He might also have been thinking of Pogba when intimating that too many of his own men had bad games but he must accept that he has been ungenerous to Pogba’s talents in asking him to do what he did against City.
Pogba rarely, if ever, plays in a midfield two. He is now forging a decent partnership with Fellaini in United’s midfield. It is a very Mourinho-type unit that is being sought and – credit where it’s due – Pogba is adapting.
Mourinho wants the players in that position to win the ball, use it and disrupt the momentum of opposition attacks. Given his attributes, it’s a surprise that so many people figured Mourinho would have little use for Fellaini in this system. What is surprising, though, is Mourinho’s error putting Pogba in beside the Belgian.
Max Allegri, the Juventus coach, is tactically flexible and asks a lot of his players on a week-by-week basis. When Juventus use a back three, they generally use three central midfielders. With a back four, they play four in there. Juventus rotated plenty around the midfield last season but with very few exceptions Pogba stayed in the team.
He was generally able to perform as an auxiliary attacker because there were always at least two or even three fellow midfielders on hand to win the ball back or keep the shape in the team. He had Stefano Sturaro, Simone Padoin, Roberto Pereyra, Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira running themselves into the ground so he could play more risky football further up the pitch.
In that position – roughly the one Rooney is occupying for United for comparison’s sake – he was full of goals, he created chances and he could express himself with the ball at his feet.
That role is unavailable to him now. Rooney has it while Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan, if he gets his act together, are probably ahead of him in the queue. Mourinho fought hard to get Pogba but wants him as a central midfielder – a €110 million Nemanja Matic.
Pogba, though, is still trying to play like he possesses that free role in the team. He gets ahead of the midfield line he is supposed to be in, he tries rolling his foot over the ball, executing skills and taking shots. Mourinho, though, would be happy with two Fellainis. There is a mismatch between what his manager is asking for and what Pogba is currently delivering. That imbalance won’t last long. And as big players have found out before, the sooner they get used to what Jose is asking of them, the easier things become.
Pogba gets some tough press; the kind of scrutiny that goes with becoming the world’s most expensive player. He was accused by the French media during the European Championship of giving the finger to his own supporters in the stands in response to harsh criticisms of his performances in the group stages. In the final against Portugal, he was posted missing – although in fairness that might go down to a lack of clarity in what Didier Deschamps was asking him to do.
During the international week just gone, he got both barrels again from L’Equipe – who questioned in their player ratings article after the World Cup qualifier against Belarus whether he’d actually ever had a good game for France. The inference clearly was that if Pogba is worth €110 million then where are the performances to match that sum? If anyone from L’Equipe was at Old Trafford for the Manchester derby on Saturday then they’d still be wondering.
Pogba’s contributions against City were limited to one speculative effort over the bar in the first half and precious little else. He rugby tackled an opponent after losing control of the ball. He was out-muscled even by the slight Leroy Sane. He was too slow turning and getting back in after losing the ball. It was precisely the type of game which could have begun to define Pogba’s comeback to United colours in a positive sense. Instead, it has increased scrutiny and left many wondering where exactly the man who won four successive titles with Juventus might be.
United may well have paid €110m for him but his is not the kind of position anymore in which he can light games up with individual moments like Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo. His effectiveness will now be measured by the influence he exerts over 90 minutes. This was his first big test in that respect and he didn’t come through it.
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