It was evident from his very first touch against Newcastle United exactly what Manchester United had been missing in Paul Pogba’s absence. The French midfielder is the Reds’ best player by some distance and immediately transformed the club’s midfield upon his return.
A range of passing like nobody else in the squad, combined with a physicality that allows him to ride challenges anywhere on the pitch, Pogba gives his United teammates extra belief based on his own playing style.
He is willing to take the ball in any position and try and make something happen from there, on several occasions against the Magpies he received the ball inside his own half with Jonjo Shelvey putting immediate pressure on him. Within a few seconds the former Juventus midfielder had rolled away from his adversary and was either on a run to the opposing goal or playing a pass across the width of the pitch to either Ashley Young or Anthony Martial.
Jose Mourinho refused to talk about the French midfielder for the duration of his absence, almost to the extent where it became notably bizarre, however after Saturday’s 4-1 victory; the Portuguese coach made no secret of the fact his team were an entirely different proposition with Pogba than without him.
“He was different class, it was what we had in the beginning of the season with Paul and Matic,” he explained in an interview with BT Sport.
“They were growing together and becoming the engine of the team.
“We lost a bit of that because, whilst other players are good players, they have different qualities.”
United’s results and performances in recent weeks have illustrated just what the Frenchman brings, however the club cannot afford to have so few creative options in midfield, especially at a time when Manchester City’s strength in depth is sensational.
Ander Herrera is a hard-working player and has a great feel for tactical changes within a match, however he lacks the range of passing that Pogba brings. Juan Mata lacks the physicality to play in the middle of midfielder whilst Marouane Fellaini brings an entirely different skill-set.
Andreas Pereira perhaps would have gotten his chance during the recent midfield injury crisis, yet his loan spell with Valencia is going perfectly well for the Brazilian. It is obvious teams are better with their best players, if you took Kevin de Bruyne out of Pep Guardiola’s team at the present moment, their form would dip.
However, you need to have options in case that happens, Manchester United can’t move forward if they are a Pogba injury away from the season becoming almost impossibly difficult to negotiate.
It is obvious that Mourinho isn’t completely happy with his squad, there are players he would like to move on, the most notable being Luke Shaw, and midfield is an area where he believes another player is needed.
Initially he believed a wide player would be key to this, Ivan Perisic was heavily targeted in the summer, although since then Anthony Martial has found the kind of consistency which makes a player of his incredible talent an invaluable member of the team.
Finding a player with similar qualities to United’s record signing will be difficult, especially when he won’t be guaranteed a starting spot. The reality is United do not need a player identical to Pogba, they simply need a more creative option from one of their deeper lying midfielders.
Mourinho’s decision to bring Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea was a stroke of genius, he complemented a physically prominent midfield nicely and handed the Blues an extra creative outlet aside from being too reliant on Eden Hazard. Fabregas has recently forced his way back into Conte’s starting line-up at Stamford Bridge, yet a player in that style would be a perfect addition at Old Trafford.
Pogba showcased his ability to create chances on Saturday; his assist for Martial’s equalising goal was something that no other United player in that position would have been able to do. Having another player who can create a chance from a different area of the pitch would add more variety to United’s play.
Leon Goretzka is a player who will be linked with a number of clubs before his Schalke contract expires in June, he is creative although more of a box-to-box type player and the feeling from Bavaria is that he has already agreed the basis of a deal to head to the Allianz Arena in the summer.
Jean Michael Seri is another midfielder who has a fine range of passing; however he is more a tempo-setter at Nice and may not be best suited to the way Jose Mourinho’s team plays.
Michael Carrick’s arrival in 2006 took Manchester United out of a period of relative darkness and turned them into Premier League title winners, of course there were a number of other factors in play but the English midfielder’s arrival certainly helped.
Carrick’s future as part of the playing staff at Old Trafford is limited to the current campaign, it is expected he will retire in May; however Mourinho should be looking to him as a prime example of the sort of player needed.
There is a common misconception that Nemanja Matic is Carrick’s replacement, the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder was never a defensive midfielder with incredible physical attributes like the Serbian, he was a phenomenal passer from deep positions. It is worth remembering that at the height of United’s success between 2007 and 2009, it was Carrick who would kick-start counter attacks with longer passes towards Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
Mourinho has an exciting front three at his disposal; he just needs more ways of providing chances for them. A lot of the criticism of United of late has come as a direct result of the mesmeric football being played at the Etihad Stadium, yet this is nonsensical. Manchester City can play in such a way because of their coach, United need to develop their own style.
There is nothing wrong with looking to move the ball from defence to attack as quickly as possible, you just need the players to do it. In Paul Pogba, United have a midfielder who is simply fantastic, there are very few things he isn’t good at, now though the club need to bring somebody in to take the reliance away from the Frenchman, just as Fabregas’ arrival did for Hazard at Chelsea.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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