Before lockdown, back in March, there was a big excitement around Manchester United. The prospect of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes playing together made us fans believe that finally, we have someone who could well and truly “unlock Pogba”. Now, In January 2021, we still haven’t seen an unlocked Pogba.
Manchester United lined-up in their usual 4-2-3-1 shape for almost every game. They also had finally found their best XI.
We won a lot of games using this system whilst reaching the Europa League semifinals and finishing 3rd in the league. Even though this lineup looked good on paper, it needed improvement, especially in the RW position as well as adding depth behind the starting XI.
Downsides of this system
On 14th July 2020, Manchester United played Southampton at Old Trafford. United were on a brilliant run on their quest to achieve Champions League qualification. Southampton under Ralph Hasenhüttl are a high pressing team. They close down their opponents quickly, not allowing time on the ball. In this game, the problem with playing Pogba-Matic pivot came to the light.
Manchester United build-up in 3-1-3-3 shape with Matic dropping to the left side of the CB’s and Pogba playing as a single pivot. United’s main play was to get the ball to Pogba who would then either drive with the ball or play a line-breaking pass to Bruno Fernandes. But, in this game, the passing lane to Paul Pogba was cut off. Even when, he got the ball, he was quickly closed down. Paul Pogba is not press resistant like Thiago. Also, he is not defensively that good to play in the pivot. This game highlighted his weakness.
Another problem of using this system was that AWB is not good at progressing the play. So, when he has the ball, opponents always try to press and win the ball back. To help him out, the RW need to drop deep and help progress the ball. But, during that period Greenwood wasn’t doing that. To solve this problem, A creative RW was the priority in the summer window (Jadon Sancho). But, we didn’t get that over the line. So, Ole had to adapt.
The new system
The 6-1 loss against Spurs was the end of the Matic-Pogba pivot at least against most teams. Now, Pogba and Matic were rotating with the ever-reliable “McFred”. In the game against Manchester City, we saw Ole trying something new. He went with the formation down below:
Even though the formation may look like a diamond, It wasn’t. Rashford moved to the right flank and Pogba played from the left. Now, during the match, the shape did vary time to time. But, mainly it was a 4-2-3-1.
Against Man City, United build up in a 3-1-2-3-1 shape. Here, Fred dropped into the left side of the back three, and Mctominay played as a single pivot. Shaw pushed high up on the left side. AWB was also high but not as high. Mainly the full-back on the ball side would be a little bit deeper than the one on the far side. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes moved into the half-spaces and were in between the lines receiving line-breaking passes from the back three. Rashford would stay wide and would drop deep to combinations with Bruno and AWB. Martial dropped into a false nine positions on several occasions.
Progression through Flanks
With Rashford and Bruno dropping deep, AWB would now have less responsibility to progress the play. Several times we saw United building up through our right side which was not visible before.
Paul Pogba’s best position
Paul Pogba is at his best when he allowed to roam and arrive at the box. When playing in the Pivot, he was not at his best. With him playing a much more advanced role, he can have much more influence than before and we saw that against Aston Villa. Also, he has now fewer defensive responsibilities than he had when playing in the pivot.
Two players between the lines in half-spaces
Having Bruno and Pogba playing together in an advanced position can wreak havoc on any team. They both have a good touch and have it in their locker to find the killer pass. If they get the ball between the lines, it could easily disrupt the opposition’s defensive shape and attract players to them which could leave space for players like Martial and Rashford.
Not getting Jadon Sancho in the Summer transfer window was a big blow for us. He would have solved so many of our issues both offensively and defensively. Ole now had to adapt with the players he has in his disposal.
While Paul Pogba may leave in the coming summer, he is still here and is a brilliant player. With him playing in the role he is now, he can perform the same role that Jadon Sancho was supposed to perform for us. This setup will get the best of him and the players surrounding him. And if this setup helps us win something, maybe he will stay. You never know.
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