United’s star man: how Paul Pogba has been revitalized by Ole Solskjaer
Ahead of Manchester United‘s colossal Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, we look at their masterful midfielder Paul Pogba and why he’s such a key figure for the Red Devils. Given much greater freedom and scope to express himself, Paul Pogba’s been superb since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the managerial reigns at Manchester United back in December.
After having a troublesome relationship with former boss Jose Mourinho, Pogba‘s been able to drop all that drama and get back to letting his skills do all the talking. Back operating from his attackingly geared midfield role, Solskjaer’s getting the best out of the 2018 World Cup winner. Placing plenty of offensive responsibility with the superstar Frenchman to drive the Red Devils forward from his preferred post, Pogba’s relished the opportunity, as he’s been integral towards Solskjaer’s remarkable 11 games unbeaten run. Doing a splendid job of linking midfield and attack and being the catalyst for so many of United’s dangerous ventures into the final third, Pogba’s intuitive movement has been vital towards his success.
Causing constant confusion to his markers with his aptitude here, he surveys his surroundings to identify where the vacant spaces are present. By venturing in and out of different opponents’ designated areas of operation, he forever asks questions who should follow him. As a result, he persistently finds space to receive in due to his smarts and the indecision he generates for his opposition.
Whether dropping deep into true central midfield locations, pushing out to support wide attacks (typically the left, where United favour), positioning himself in between the opposition’s lines of midfield and defence or by taking advantage of openings to surge in behind with a piercing run, he’s provided his teammates with fantastic options in many scenarios.
It’s been interesting to note when he drops deep into the left half space, this has provided him with the platform to dictate play away from the more congested advanced central areas. While this lessens United’s presence higher up, it does, however, allow him to enhance the quality of his actions due to the minimal pressure he’s under. Particularly striking has been how from these instances he’ll launch raking cross-field diagonals to the open side to put his winger or full-back in ideal 1v1s or when he’s unleashed the likes of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial in behind with a lofted through ball.
Timing, angling and directing his movement in relation to where the ball, his teammates, his opposition and space are, he’s effectively created positional, numerical and qualitative superiorities for his team to bypass their adversaries.
While he’s been a very elusive proposition, his impact has extended beyond this, for he’ll regularly pin his marker or draw them away from threatening areas to manufacture space or open a passing lane for them to use. Coordinating his movement neatly with his colleagues, he performs shrewd rotations to further enhance his team’s ability to disrupt their enemies’ stopping structures.
Supplementing the afore with his exquisite technical quality, that sees him able to create game-changing moments with an ingenuitive piece of skill, sublime shot or wicked pass, the former Juventus maestro’s presence has been keenly felt here.
So difficult to stop with the ball at his feet, Pogba’s slick first touch, sharp ball control and a handy array of manoeuvres to outfox his marker, including stopovers, feints, shimmies and more, mean he’s an unpredictable and valuable weapon for United. Adept at altering his body position prior to inheriting possession, he gets his body postures spot on to receive in preferable forward facing body postures while still being on the move to continue the momentum of attacks.
A progressive passer who’s always looking to hit vertical line breaking passes, both in the air and on the ground, to unbalance his opponents, Pogba backs himself to find a teammate in damaging spots to continue the attack. Weighting his passes nicely and executing them with conviction, his range sees him excel when partaking in intricate link play, plus when hitting long, short and medium length deliveries.
Furthermore, his fearsome set piece taking and shooting prowess has only highlighted his danger going forward on his way to bagging eight goals and supplying five assists since Solskjaer’s appointment, where he’s blended power, finesse and accuracy. Although he’s turned the ball over on occasion when trying to overdo it and force the issue, the positives attached to him being so bold and ambitious far outweigh any negatives.
Full of physicality and athleticism to boot, the forceful and imposing dynamo’s strengths in these regards have served him beautifully. So strong and hard to outmuscle yet supremely balanced, the towering 191 cm midfielder, who weighs a solid 84 kg, has used his advantage here to effectively hold up the ball, win aerial duels and remain upright when powerfully dribbling upfield.
Couple this with his searing pace, acceleration, immense leap and agility, and it’s easy to see why he’s such formidable talent in so many phases of his side’s attacking forays. Leading his team in so many metrics in league action per game, including assists (on seven), goals (joint top with nine), most shots (3.25), passes into the final third (10.56) and most fouled (2.07), he’s unquestionably United’s star man. What’s more, the fact he also completes 3.42 dribbles pg, has 1.28 shot assists pg, enjoys 2.12 touches inside the box pg, embarks on 1.7 progressive runs pg and hits 2.34 accurate passes into the box pg only amplifies his worth.
Thriving under Solskjaer’s guidance and within his more exciting framework, his comments aptly demonstrate his happiness working alongside his former United reserve coach. “The way we are playing we have more possession of the ball. We know more where to attack and where to go. We have more of a pattern of play and more of a structure,” Pogba told Sky Sports. “That makes it easier for everyone. So I would not say it is only myself. Yes, I have scored a few goals and had a few assists but it is all the team [that deserves credit].”
He then added: “Before the coach arrived I was in the shadows, on the bench, and I accepted that. It is a pleasure to play again. Now I am always smiling. It’s a pleasure to be reunited with him. I knew him from the academy and the reserves when his nickname was ‘Supersub’. He is doing a really good job. As a player, he knew the mentality of this club. He has come back to help us and it is going very well.”
Revitalised, happy and back to his free-flowing best, Solskjaer’s arrival has been the best thing possible for the mercurial Pogba and this ultra-talented United squad. And with the PSG game on the horizon, the timing of this upturn in form couldn’t be better.