In the aftermath of Manchester United’s dismal 3-1 defeat to Watford at Vicarage Road, several members of Jose Mourinho’s squad were heavily criticized for their inability to influence proceedings. The club’s record signing, Paul Pogba bore a major brunt too as his opposite number Etienne Capoue looked more mobile and effective in midfield. Given the hefty price tag, it is understandable for critics and fans to expect more from the Frenchman but is there more to the tale than just a confidence barrier?
Paul Scholes thinks so. The 41-year-old drew an interesting comparison between Pogba’s position for the team at Juventus and his current station for France and United. In Italy, the 23-year-old was deployed in a midfield trio, being the furthest forward with the likes of Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira holding the fort in deeper roles. Prior to that, he was complemented by Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo and combative Chilean Arturo Vidal. The presence of a deep-lying playmaker alongside a defence-minded midfielder gave Pogba the license to venture forward and weave his magic for the Serie A giants. The assumption that the defensive side to his game is as strong as his offensive side has been rendered incorrect in the past and instances of them have been highlighted numerous times.
One of those days happened to be the Watford catastrophe. Partnered by Marouane Fellaini in a two-man midfield screening the backline, Pogba recorded his worst statistics on the ball ever since his return to United. Only 75% of his 63 passes were completed and there were no interceptions against the Hornets as it became increasingly clear that Mourinho had shoehorned the £89 million man into an unfamiliar position. Scholes reiterated the importance of having a composed player on the ball in the trio and identified Michael Carrick as the ideal orchestrator to operate alongside Pogba. Whether Mourinho opts for a change in formation in the games to come remains to be seen but on the basis of the evidence gathered thus far, it appears Pogba will continue to struggle in a deeper role for United.
Switching to a 4-3-3 formation may also result in the demotion of captain Wayne Rooney to the bench, given the changed dynamic of the squad. The Englishman was targetted by vociferous United supporters as well as pundits for a wasteful display in Hertfordshire and may have to be dropped to accommodate Pogba. Another reason a change in setup may benefit United is that having an extra man in midfield which may forfeit width while pinning down the opposition in central areas of the pitch. This system briefly worked wonders for Louis van Gaal during a period in his debut campaign at the helm, a spell during which he bagged victories against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City. What made that run all the more impressive was the presence of Carrick in each and every match, thereby strengthening the veteran’s case for regular game time under Mourinho.
If the Portuguese maverick is to turn things around, it is imperative he understands the correct position for his players, starting with the most expensive one of all time.