Paul Pogba’s dismal form against Newcastle, and even before that against Tottenham, has led many to worry about the ability of the erstwhile talented Frenchman. However, apart from a form-slump, the mistake doesn’t lie entirely on Pogba’s shoulders either.
Jose Mourinho and his stubborn insistence on not playing a 4-3-3 formation is more to blame for the midfielder’s fall from grace. Let us explore 4 reasons why it is the best formation for both Pogba and Manchester United.
Pogba is NOT A Holding Midfielder
Following criticism from Liverpool legend Graeme Souness, Thierry Henry said on Sky Sports: “When you have quality, people expect you to do wonders. In France people love him, he’s not a holding midfielder. Does he have an impact on the game of a holding midfielder?”
“No. Is he N’Golo Kante? No. Pogba has more in his DNA to be up there, to create. Pogba needs to adapt and be efficient, but he’s not a holding midfielder.”
This is precisely where the Frenchman is most apt to function best. The position gains more prominence when you look at who his partners are at the heart of the midfield.
Matic’s functioning as a holding midfielder is what many experts are hailing as the new factor in United’s mixed success this season. The initial word on every lip was that with Matic helming the line of defense, Pogba could be easily freed to wreak havoc in his usual creative manner.
Unfortunately, that has not happened. Mourinho fields the two midfield maestros in a deeper holding role in 4-2-3-1, and that often does more harm than good. Due to Pogba’s offensive tendencies, it is easy for the Frenchman to drift into the attack, leaving Matic often undermanned – a sight that has occurred quite a few times this season, and has been exploited brilliantly by big teams, the most recent instance being that of Tottenham.
All in all, Pogba simply isn’t the kind of player Kante is, and the manner in which the latter and Matic briefly linked up at Chelsea is what led the Blues to great success. At United, a different approach must be taken.
Best Suited For Pogba’s Creative Ability
By playing at the left of a center three, Pogba will be a force to reckon with. The best instance of this was seen during Mourinho’s rare experiment with the 4-3-3 formation, which came during the 2-0 win against Everton on New Year’s Day. In that fixture, Pogba was a ruthless presence, with both the goals of the day being created from his ploys.
Besides, it’s not just the Everton game that is a startling proof of Pogba’s success at the spot. At Juventus, the youngster functioned primarily in that position, and his success there is more than evident across competitions. When played in that position, Pogba was the source of 28 assists and 31 goals for the Serie A outfit, and was also named in FIFA FIFPro World XI 2015.
Already, the Frenchman has 9 league assists to his name so far this campaign, and a good deal of these have come when he has broken out of his prescribed spot and ventured into a run in the opposition’s half rather than playing a duck ahead of the defense.
His creative tendencies are proven and his ability is staple lethal, so much so that even a central attacking slot could suit him better than his current role. Mourinho must take note of this, and not force the man to function as what he obviously isn’t.
Best For United In The Long Run
Mourinho has led the side to rejuvenated success; there is no doubt about that. But at the same time, the Portuguese tactician has imposed his defensive style of play on a team whose very DNA screams for attacking football.
While the former has a brilliance of its own, it simply doesn’t match what United are used to, nor does it do justice to the roster of talents that the side boasts of. By playing 4-3-3, the Red Devils will see a welcome return to a fiery attacking brand of football.
In this formation, the team will be built chiefly around Pogba and Lukaku.
By shifting to an attacking trident that gets rid of the number 10 role, United’s wingers will be free to play their natural game. The cut-in tendencies of Martial and Sanchez will be done perfect justice in this style, and Lukaku will be fed apt balls from more sources that in the previous setup.
Further, as evident in the Everton game, Pogba from the left spot will go on to push forward inside the penalty area and link up quite well with the attackers. As a result, the now wider United attack will be a lethal presence in nearly all scenarios.
Lastly, with the wing-backs relegated to less of an attacking functionality, more focus can be given defensively, which over time might compensate for the defensive approach that Mourinho will lose after switching formations.
The Past Is Key
Writing in his Daily Mail column regarding the need for Mourinho to change formations, Jamie Carragher stated: “The barometers Pogba will be measured against in the future are Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Yaya Toure, three of the Premier League’s most dominant midfield figures; they scored goals, provided assists, won games on their own and propelled their teams to trophies.”
But the main point was: “Those three men, however, all found it difficult when they were put in the role in which Mourinho has deployed Pogba — in a midfield two. Lampard, for instance, flourished in a midfield three for Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti when Claude Makelele was the security behind him.
“Steven played centrally many times for Liverpool but the years he was named Footballer of the Year — by the PFA in 2006 and the FWA in 2009 — he had played on the right of midfield or as a No 10; the presence of Dietmar Hamann, Xabi Alonso, and Javier Mascherano gave him the licence to rampage.”
This holds immensely true in the case of Pogba too. In fact, his main weakness, which is his lack of positional discipline, can be used to great advantage in 4-3-3. His breakouts can be translated into open play leading to immense attacking potential for United, particularly if the third man in the center is able to secure the markers targeting the Frenchman.
All in all, much has been said about how Pogba’s enormous price tag ought to mean that the superstar must function across the midfield at any position. A closer look at the argument reveals precisely how flawed it truly is. A player must play where he functions best, and where he’ll best aid his side to renewed success, and that is precisely what a Pogba in a 4-3-3 can achieve.
However, the real question is, how much longer will it take before Mourinho realizes and implements this?