Paul Pogba plunged his Manchester United future into doubt at the end of last season when he claimed it may be a good time to take on a new challenge.
Two months on and after a summer of intense speculation he’s still at Old Trafford, and instead of a new challenge at a new club he’s been tasked with a new role in Manchester United’s midfield.
Wolves vs Man Utd
August 19, 2019, 7:00pm
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deployed Pobga in a deep-lying midfield position in last Sunday’s Premier League opener against Chelsea, a decision that looked misjudged after he spent the opening 45 minutes on the fringes of the game.
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But it proved to be an inspired tactical rejig from the United manager as an imperious second-half display saw the France midfielder provide assists for Marcus Rashford and Daniel James to seal an emphatic 4-0 victory.
It’s a template Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson believes Solskjaer should use for the rest of the season, starting with United’s trip to Wolves on Monday Night Football – live on Sky Sports Premier League.
‘Pogba makes things happen’
“Solskjaer pulled a bit of a masterstroke,” Merson told The Debate. “What’s he’s done is get him to come deeper and get on the ball.
“He was playing in a more advanced role last season and he wasn’t getting the ball. People weren’t able to find him easily and when they did, he was easy to pick up.
2:54 Highlights from Manchester United's 4-0 win against Chelsea in the Premier League.
“Now he’s got him coming deeper and he’s getting on the ball. That gives him confidence and he’ll make things happen.
“I would always play him deeper because you want him on the ball. You don’t want him up the pitch here no-one can find him and he’s easy to mark.
“He can find a pass. The ball [for Rashford’s goal] was phenomenal, and it showed he’s got the vision. Get him further back, get him on the ball and let him make things happen.”
Solskjaer: Pogba can do everything
With United’s reluctance to sell Pogba heightened by the closure of the summer transfer window in England, Solskjaer will have welcomed the positive response to his attempts to stimulate Pogba with a new challenge.
Pogba’s attacking prowess was there for all to see in 2018/19 as he registered career-high goal involvement figures of 22 in all competitions and scored more goals than any other United player.
Questions remain over his suitability to a deeper midfield role, where defensive responsibilities and positional awareness are critical, but Solskjaer saw enough against Chelsea to convince him that Pogba has the attributes to play anywhere the United boss sees fit.
“Paul can do many, many jobs, he can do the attacking midfield job and [against Chelsea] he was more of a link player,” Solskjaer said. “Paul can do everything a midfielder can. He can get the ball in good positions.”
Should Ole persist with Pogba’s new position?
With midfield options at a premium following the departures of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini in the last six months, put simply, Solskjaer would be foolish not to.
Pogba was head and shoulders above his peers in every key attacking measure at the club last season: goals, shots, penalties scored, assists, chances created, and he completed more passes than any other player. With two assists to his name already, the initial signs suggest that form will continue.
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But if Solskjaer can improve Pogba’s all-round game to compliment his assured attacking performances, then he really will have pulled off a masterstroke, one that provides solutions to personnel issues and, perhaps more importantly, presents the midfielder with the opportunity to progress.
After expressing his desire to explore a new challenge in the summer, Pogba has got just that. A new challenge at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield that all parties will benefit from if it continues in the manner in which it started.
How to watch on Sky Sports
As well as following our dedicated live blog, Wolves vs Man Utd is live on Monday Night Football from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League; Kick-off 8pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.