A crucial international break in Manchester United’s season

The past few weeks have been some of the hardest for Manchester United and its fans in recent memory. After defeat to Leicester City, a complete embarrassment of a 5-0 defeat against rivals Liverpool, and a poor display and loss in the Manchester derby, the club feels as unstable at present as it ever has since Sir Alex Fergusons retirement. 

However, players now have the international break, two weeks away from club football, this piece will examine just why this period may be the most crucial yet in United’s season. 

Most crucially, international breaks give players the opportunity to find form they may have been missing at club level, of course this only concerns players who have been called up to play for their national team. 

A player this may well apply to is United captain and England centre back Harry Maguire; since seemingly being rushed back from injury for the Leicester game, as reported by the Mail Online, Maguire has been a shadow of the player fans know he can be, at fault for goals against Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as looking generally off the pace. 

For England, however, Maguire often plays some of his best football, being a crucial player is England’s deep run in the Euros in the summer of 2021, United fans will be hoping the captain can find his form on international duty and bring it back to Old Trafford to help a seemingly shaky defence.

Other players that will hopefully find form while away include Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes, and Fred. All of whom are regular starters at United and have been criticised heavily by pundits and fans for their performances in the past few weeks. 

The international break also gives the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the opportunity to re-group and decide the best way to move forward with this Manchester United squad. It gives him the opportunity to plan which formations, tactics and starting line-ups will give Manchester United the best chance at bouncing back after the international break, something they desperately need to do to save their season. 

However, it must be noted, as reported by the Mail Online, that the manager was spotted flying back to Norway for a holiday with his family, this does not fill fans with hope that United players who were not called up to international duty such as Donny van de Beek and Mason Greenwood are receiving the correct training and tactical assurances after such woeful performances. 

Of course, while this international break is crucial, it also brings its own set of issues, including players picking up injuries while on international duty. Unfortunately for United fans, this has already happened as it was reported by ESPN that within the first couple of days of training for France, Paul Pogba sustained an injury that could keep the midfielder out for two months. 

Pogba is a player United fans would want to improve on international duty and return to the club at his best, instead, due to the international break, United will be without one of their most talented players, and highest paid players, for a critical point of the season. 

While most football English football fans are not huge supporters of regular international breaks, there can be no doubt that for Manchester United, a break came at the right time. Fans will be hoping that fitness and form can be improved for both players away with their country, and players who are training in Manchester, ready to attack the crucial set of games ahead of them. 

However, they will be wary that if any more players end up on the side-lines due to injury, those games become a much tougher task than they already are. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Opinion: Paul Pogba may forever be an odd piece in Manchester United’s puzzled system

Manchester United’s dismal run of form continued against Leicester on Saturday as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team suffered a dejecting 4-2 defeat. It was the chance to usher in a triumphant return to form for United, however Solskjaer’s team looked even worse than before the international break for large patches of the game. 

Naturally questions will be directed towards the manager and his subsequent selection of Harry Maguire, who had an awful individual performance, but it was United’s midfield that once again massively struggled, particularly Paul Pogba. Just days ago, Pogba had put in a top-class performance for France, winning the UEFA Nations League in the process, yet the Pogba on the pitch against Leicester looked a million miles from the Nations League display. 

This then poses the question, what is the reason Pogba can be brilliant for France yet not translate this to club football? In all truth there is likely to be several factors rather than one sole reason, but Pogba’s unstable form for United has been present since the Frenchman arrived, which leads to the natural assumption that somethings not quite right within the United setup if it can’t get the best out of the exceptionally talented midfielder.

Pogba had left United in an unsavoury manner all the way back in 2012, departing Sir Alex Fergusons side for Juventus, and Sir Alex made it very clear he wasn’t happy with how the situation played out. United’s legendary manager has always had a dislike towards Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, who managed to get the Frenchman out of United on a free back then. 

Since then, Pogba returned in grand fashion in 2016, a world record fee of £89 million at the time, this in tandem with an intensive social media announcement raised expectations through the roof. However, despite all the hype and expectation, Pogba has never seemed to fully realise the potential he possesses. 

It started out well enough for Pogba, winning the Europa League and League Cup in his first season for United, the midfielder had a decent season under Jose Mourinho, who he would later famously fall out with. Even then though, Pogba didn’t always look comfortable in the holding number six role, his attacking brilliance caged, and emphasis put on his defensive contributions- which is nowhere near the strongest aspect of his game. 

It felt like Pogba was touted as some sort of midfield saviour for United, an area that has failed to have been properly addressed for years. While there has been midfielders brought in alongside Pogba, such as Ander Herrera or Nemanja Matic, there has rarely been a United side in the last few years where you felt like that the midfield would take charge and be the difference in the game. 

This then must partly go down to poor recruitment and the turnover in managers in the last eight years, United are in uncharted territory and it shows. Four different managers with hugely contrasting ideas and systems, some more evident than others. For example, Mourinho’s defensively minded United side were very good at grinding out results whereas Solskjaer allows more of a free reign approach in search for goals. 

The point being United have been signing players for different systems and ideas and then forcing the next manager to try and integrate them in their own setup- it’s inefficient and unsustainable regarding success.

Consequentially now where United find themselves with one win in five it’s only fitting that the board have reportedly promised to stick by Solskjaer, a clear sign that the manager turnover is not something they want to become a habit. Going back to Pogba, it is Solskjaer who let his attacking instincts run free in a left-wing role. 

Pogba seemed happier playing from the left and having fewer defensive responsibilities, and for a while it seemed like the balance of the team was better like this. However, the void of sheer quality lost in central areas is noticeable when the Frenchman plays on the left, there are far less forward or line breaking passes, and despite being more defensively sound, the manager would ideally want both aspects present in central midfield. 

Subsequently we can look to France to see how it can work out for Pogba to perform to his best while still playing in that central area. In the France setup Pogba is paired with a sitter, a midfielder who is defensively minded and usually high energy and intensity, almost the antithesis of Pogba who is freer spirited and plays with a steady rhythm. 

A player like N’Golo Kante or more recently Aurelien Tchouameni next to Pogba means he can focus on his strongest attributes such as dribbling, passing, and arriving in attacking areas rather than defending. This is ideally what United may need to look to do, but presently the only player who would be able to play a role next to Pogba like this is Matic, however the Serbian lacks the legs and engine needed to do this to provide true defensive cover. 

Therein lies the issue with the Pogba puzzle, currently Pogba is a piece that just doesn’t fit into the crop of United players that Solskjaer has without drawback. Play him on the left-wing and opportunities for the multitude of talented wingers United possess are scuppered, play him in midfield and United are vulnerable defensively. 

It does seem though after five long years and several top performances at the national level United and Solskjaer may have finally worked out the solution to solve the problem, i.e. bringing in a proper number six/defensive midfielder suited to Pogba’s game, but it almost seems too late.

Pogba would have to commit to another long haul at United to ever see the benefits of such a player brought in alongside him, something he may not want to do. This is because of on top of never feeling truly comfortable in any specific role, Pogba has always flirted with a United exit, fuelling the tirade of comments suggesting the Frenchman doesn’t care and isn’t good enough for United anyway. 

All of this alongside the club being poorly managed from the top down for a good while has meant Pogba has always looked like a fish out of water. A player unstable in performances generated from an unstable environment and lack of clarity on his role. Pogba has been a square piece in a round hole for United’s midfield for a while, a midfield that is symptomatic of far greater issues at the club regarding ownership and lack of proper structuring.

On his day Pogba will provide the most outrageous assist and bury a 30 yarder like it’s nothing, but it’s rarely been Pogba’s day at his time during United. In spite of this, Pogba has been a top scorer and top assist provider during his time at the club, further muddying the unclear waters of whether Pogba can be considered a success or even a good player over the last five years. 

When playing for France Pogba is surrounded by winners, a clear system and stability- at United it’s now unfortunately the opposite. This doesn’t excuse the times we’ve seen a lack of effort from the Frenchman, the jogging back or head down attitude that sometimes surfaces in hard times, but it adds to the reasons of why Pogba hasn’t fulfilled a massive potential in his time here. 

In terms of the future, it’s currently unclear for Pogba as it feels almost every year for the 28-year-old. Raiola has frequently opened his mouth regarding potential moves away and Pogba has done nothing to suggest long-term commitment to United. 

The next contract for Pogba will be his last big contract, so there is an added pressure on a player that has professed he is desperate to win, perhaps a reason why a move away from United may be so appealing. Yet despite this there is clearly an affection for the club from Pogba, or in failing that a desire to win here and prove doubters wrong, this may be one reason the Frenchman considers staying. 

The easy way out would be to leave for Real Madrid or Juventus, but the fairy-tale ending would be to stay and potentially help United ascend back to glory. If this is ever to happen United need to make the correct decisions from the board level down in terms of recruitment, the right course of action regarding the manager situation, and most importantly, Pogba has to really want to play for the club.

United now find themselves needing to bounce back if the season is to be considered a success, and Pogba may find himself playing a greater role in not just his own future but the future of the club.

Written by Sam Wilson

Real Madrid and Barcelona ‘a complete mess’ as Paul Scholes urges Paul Pogba to snub them

Manchester United legend Paul Scholes has urged Paul Pogba to snub transfers to either Real Madrid or Barcelona calling them ‘a complete mess’. The English former midfielder believes that Pogba should be delighted to play in the Premier League as it is the ‘best in the world’.

For years now, Pogba has been linked to many different clubs with Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain being added to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Pogba once famously stated during a summer break that he wanted a new challenge, which linked him to a move that summer, which never came. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic seemingly stopped a transfer, which continued in the summer of 2021.

Pogba’s contract at United will be up at the end of the season which could see the French midfielder once again leave the club as a free agent. Juventus are said to be interested in signing the player on a free once again, but to entertain his wage demands, they will need to offload a number of players to be able to afford that, so it could be the might of both Real Madrid and Barcelona that count try and sign the player.

Scholes has suggested that Pogba should ignore offers from clubs abroad that he considers weaker and stay in the Premier League. The Frenchman has been playing in a two-man midfield, which is something that Scholes did from around 1995 to 2013 when he retired, winning 11 Premier League titles in that time. Speaking on the Webby & O’Neill show, Scholes said:

“I can’t see why he would want to leave here. Why would you want to leave England? You look at Real Madrid – the Spanish league’s gone. Real, Barcelona, they’re an absolute, complete mess.

“PSG might be another option for him but England is the best now. You look at the top four teams, they’ve got all the best players, the best managers are here, so why would he want to leave?

“But it’s up to the club. If the club want to keep him then great, if they don’t then we’ll say goodbye.”

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has struggled to find the right balance in midfield this season with Pogba seemingly struggling in a two-man midfield and the jury still being out as to whether he can be the player to bring stability to the midfield. Scholes continued by saying:

“Everybody is a little bit unsure because he doesn’t do it week in and week out. I think there is a big a debate. You’d probably say half of people want him, the other half wouldn’t be that bothered if he went.

“I think the middle of the pitch is a little bit of a problem for us. If he is on song and plays to his ability like he does for France every time he seems to play for them then you’ve got to try and keep him.”

There have been a few rumours of late suggesting that Pogba will sign a new contract at United, although nothing seems to have developed or at least been confirmed, so it can only be treated as rumour. During the course of the week, it was suggested that Pogba would agree a £400,000 per week deal to remain at the club with suggestions that United have set a year end deadline to agree that, because the player can sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club to leave as a free agent at the end of the season.

After the start Pogba made to the season, this could be the best ever season for the Frenchman at United, which would be fitting if it was his last, but even better if it was the start of the player finding the love of United and knuckling down to help the club achieve. Pogba has seven assists to his name in the Premier League alone this season, which shows that he is a player that can stand up and make himself counted.

That said, in the past, he has waned at the time that United needed him the most, but at that stage, he was considered the star of the team and he is now surrounded with players who can make something out of nothing on the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, just naming a few of them. There are also many great prospects at the club who want to achieve. It would be better for United to continue with Pogba, but if he was certain in wanting to leave, it will create a place in the team for someone else to prosper.

Written by John Walker

Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United likely to continue after summer transfers – reports

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba was expected to run down his contract at the Old Trafford club this season, leaving as a free agent next summer for the second time in his career. However, the transfer business conducted by the club this summer, in which Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo all signed for the club could see the player make a U-turn on his future, as reported by The Mirror.

If these rumours of the player changing his min are true, United could be set for success in the not too distant future.

Pogba first left United in the summer of 2012, rejecting a new contract to remain at the club, which was then managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba signed as a free agent for Juventus, in which compensation was paid as the player had come through United’s academy. Four years later, United signed Pogba for £89 million with the player looking to finish what was started at the club.

In his first season back at United, then managed by Jose Mourinho, Pogba helped the Old Trafford club lift the EFL Cup, now the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, which meant that United had now won every trophy they had ever played for in the history of the club.

Since winning their last trophy, United have faltered in rediscovering that trophy-winning form, overcoming their semi-final hoodoo last season by earning a UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal, which was lost on 11-10 on penalties. It was a shame that United could not win the Europa League last season but the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic were just one of the reasons the club failed.

Many may see that blaming the inability to win on the pandemic might be childish, but you have to look at the three months delay to the 2019/20 season, which saw the season finish during June and July 2020 with the UEFA competitions being played out through August 2020. That with the 2020/21 season starting in September, it saw United with around three weeks break with no pre-season and effectively continuing one season straight after the other which resulted in continued fatigue.

It is being suggested that the 28-year-old French midfielder has had a change of heart over his future at United, which if true is a good thing as United could achieve so much more with the player in the squad this season.

Pogba has started the season in fine form with United’s start to the season, getting four assists in the 5-1 demolition of Leeds United in the clubs opening match of the season, getting another assist in the 1-1 draw with Southampton, then getting two more in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at the weekend.

United have scored 11 goals in their opening four Premier League matches this season, conceding just three, which is a much better start to the season compared to last season, where they fell to a home defeat on the opening day of the season to Crystal Palace, losing five more matches, all at Old Trafford during the course of the season in the league.

Pogba did not have the greatest 2020/21 season but his start to the current season shows that he wants to make amends for that.

The reports in The Mirror on Monday seem to come from a report by The Athletic, which seems to suggest the return to Old Trafford of a certain Ronaldo is the major boost in Pogba’s mind seemingly changing, which shows that United are seeking to create something for the future and the now in their bid to challenge for silverware both this season and in the future.

Ronaldo’s second debut at the club saw him score a brace against Newcastle, which turned back the years at the Theatre of Dreams.

Over the years, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola has been vocal about United’s demise, which you can see from the point of view of the player, in that he wants to achieve success with the club, especially during the peak of his career.

But the words from Raiola were agitating and seemed to suggest that he wanted to move his client on to pastures new once again, if only to earn some money for himself, which he seems to be obsessed by as an agent. Another client of his, Erling Haaland seems to be wanted by many clubs, which will earn Raiola a tidy sum, which is something he seems to care about more than anything else.

If Pogba ends up committing his foreseeable future to United, and it is a good deal for the club – not something that will see the player earn £400,000 per week, as has been talked about in the media recently, it could be a good deal, especially if the French FIFA World Cup winner wants to achieve things for this club once again.

United winning the Premier League title for the first time since the 2012/13 season would be considered a great success for the club, based on the fact Manchester City seem to have dominated – winning the title four times, with Chelsea winning twice and both Leicester City and Liverpool winning one each.

United will obviously be seeking to signing more players next summer with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata all entering their last year of their contracts, plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to finally sort out the midfield, with Nemanja Matic the only experienced defensive midfielder at the club.

Whatever United manage to achieve this season will only be the beginning as the club looks like they mean business in getting back to winning ways and challenging for silverware for the foreseeable future.

Written by John Walker

Paul Pogba: On target for a memorable 2021/22 season – his best yet?

Paul Pogba has started the 2021/22 season in great fashion with four assists in the 5-1 demolition of Leeds United in the first Premier League fixture at Old Trafford this season, also getting another assist in the 1-1 draw against Southampton at St Mary’s, which was largely positive, well apart from the result. However, it still means that United are undefeated on the road in 27 matches, which has seen the club match the same record as Arsenal which was set almost 17 years ago. If United avoid defeat away to Wolverhampton Wanderers this coming weekend, the record will be theirs.

Some say there is nothing to be positive about under the reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but there has been bags of positivity but it just does not register with the Ole Out brigade, who seem to moan about anything. I saw one of them suggest that it was ‘individual brilliance’ that saw United beat Leeds in the opening Premier League match of the season, but if it was anything else, it would have been Solskjaer’s fault for them. The excuses are becoming a joke, but then again, most of these people are a joke, let’s be honest.

Back to Pogba, he has been subject of a lot of speculation this summer with Paris Saint-Germain linked to him before the arrival of Lionel Messi, who left Barcelona as a free agent after the deal to re-sign the Argentinian was not ratified. That cost Pogba a move to the French capital, if the speculation was anything to go by. However, he does seem to be happy at United and has never actually suggested, not this summer anyway, that he wanted to leave United. It has been a few years since he announced that he wanted a fresh challenge.

Pogba will be a free agent in the summer of 2022 and it seems likely that he could leave United as a free agent for the second time in his career, which would be embarrassing for the club and Solskjaer will end up being blamed by the section of the so-called fanbase that they represent. It is not his fault and there will be someone to blame but it will be a Glazer or Ed Woodward as the way they have been running the club has been poor, not getting the players that previous managers wanted, always aiming for the cheapest option.

Imagine if during the years post-Sir Alex Ferguson that United had done things the way the managers of the club wanted at the time. Could the club be in a better position today? Of course, that is not an answer that anyone could give but would love to be able to see it out and see what happened. That is not going to happen though.

United have spent the best part of £1 billion on players since the summer of 2014, which most of has been wasted on players who did not fit into the club, did not want to be at the club or did not really make an impact. That just proves that the club needed a new identity, which is what they have under Solskjaer, whether you agree or not. There is a direction that the club is heading in, a plan for the now and the future and a level that the club aspires to become.

It has been better under Solskjaer that it was under Jose Mourinho, even though he won the FA Community Shield, the EFL Cup and the UEFA Europa League. If Solskjaer was the manager at the time, instead of Mourinho, United would be in a great place right now. Many supporters today do not have patience, which is worrying as having everything from the moment that you want it is not really worth it as you have not lied the journey. The journey is the majority of the experience. If you have everything from the start, what is the point of having it?

Despite Pogba being linked with an exit of the Old Trafford club this summer, Solskjaer recently confirmed to the media that he would still be a United player at the closure of the summer transfer window in a week’s time. The Mirror quoted the Norwegian manager as saying:

“Yes, I expect Paul to be here when the first of September comes.

“If you’ve got a five-year contract or a one-year contract, when you sign for Man United you have to rise to the challenge of performing on a consistent level.

“I’m not worried whatsoever that the length of any player’s contract is changing the level of their motivation and inspiration.

“You want to play well for your team, your team-mates, yourself, your family, every time you play. What I expect is that the attitude and the approach to every game is the right one.

“That we have the same focus, the right focus, the right professionalism and. With that, I have no worries about Paul whatsoever.”

When Pogba returned to United, which came four years after he walked away from United as a free agent in the summer of 2012, costing United £89 million in the summer of 2016, the player stated that he had unfinished business at the Old Trafford club. Obviously he wants to be playing for a club that will challenge for the Premier League title, push in both the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup and challenge to win the clubs fourth UEFA Champions League trophy. Any player would want that. However, with the Glazers at the club, that was never on the cards as money tops success for that family and that needs to change.

The rules of business states that to accumulate you need to speculate and the Glazer’s just seem to be interested in accumulating and not really speculating. Yes, monty has been spent over the years but the plan of action in where that money was spent was not the best. It looked like someone who did not know about football was splurging money on players that he thought would fit the squad rather than players that would actually fit into the squad, I guess that is Ed Woodward for you.

You cannot blame Pogba for being unhappy that United were not challenging and were left well behind Manchester City, who will moan about other clubs spending large transfer fees on players and suggest that they cannot afford to do that, all of a sudden splurging £100 million on Jack Grealish and interested in Harry Kane, who will cost £150 million. All this from a club who has one of the best teams in the Premier League, despite the vast majority of players being bought to make the squad better, rather than being coached to make the squad better. If City spent more time on bringing through youth rather than opening the chequebook every transfer window, they might earn more respect in the game.

Pogba will want to challenge for all the best trophies in club football. He has already reached the pinnacle in international football, winning the FIFA World Cup with France in the summer of 2018, but falling short in Euro 2020 this summer. At Juventus, Pogba won the Series A title each season he was at the club, also winning two Coppa Italia’s and Supercoppa Italiana’s. Coming back to United, a club he had spent three seasons with, mostly playing academy football, he wanted to achieve success with the club, which came in his first season but soon faltered as the owners of the club did not really back Mourinho, which on hindsight may have been right as he was sacked during his third season managing the club.

Italian journalist, Fabrizio Romano has recently confirmed that United and Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, who is a very vocal agent and does not care what he says and who to, have been in contact again regarding a new contract for Pogba. There is no agreement yet and nothing to suggest that there will be but with the arrival of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, Pogba might see the chances of United working towards winning a Premier League title, amongst other things as more likely that it was without them at the club.

United need to secure the defence, fix a problem in the midfield and work out the attack to win things. As Sir Alex Ferguson once said; “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”. This could be the season that something starts for United and with Pogba in the form he is in, looking happy on the pitch, he could be a player that could help United deliver what has been missing since the 2012/13 season – a Premier League title. The club has not lifted the Emirates FA Cup since Louis van Gaal’s last season at the club (2015/16) which saw his fate days later as he was himself sacked.

With five assists to his name, which has gone a long way to bettering his achievements last season which saw him score six goals and nine assists in 42 appearances. With five assists in two appearances this season so far, it is likely that he will beat the number of assists he obtained last season. If he can bring 10-15 goals this season, added to what Bruno Fernandes could achieve, putting the ball into the box for the likes of Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and even Anthony Martial, who has been in dire form in the two matches he has been involved in, something could well be cooking at United. If Pogba ends up staying at United, long-term, it is likely that with the squad the club has, trophies are not far away as long as the work is done on the pitch with nobody hiding this time. Hopefully he can see this for himself but the 2021/22 season could be his best yet at the Old Trafford club.

Written by John Walker

Opinion: Manchester United’s Midfield Dilemma

The 2021/22 Premier League season has started and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make with regards to who he picks as his first-choice midfield. Since his arrival at the club, Solskjaer has tried to stick to partnerships remaining loyal to his primary midfielders. Due to Bruno Fernandes’ remarkable impact, his spot in the team has always been guaranteed thus leaving Solskjaer only two spots to figure out. In Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1, he’s often used Scott McTominay and Fred as his midfield pivot to ensure stability at the back.

This can be viewed as quite defensive, but it does provide that cover for the back four especially when he sees the partnership of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as unreliable. With the addition of Raphael Varane, this may change the dynamic at United as Solskjaer will feel that his new centre half partnership is assured and thus he can adapt to a more offensive approach rather than two more defensive minded players. Therefore, Solskjaer has a big decision to make on whether to play more freely but leaving the defence more vulnerable or sticking to a more stable but offensively hindered duo. The four midfield partnerships he could choose are:

Scott McTominay and Fred

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba

Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic

Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay/Fred

Firstly, McTominay and Fred. This is the pivot we’ve seen the most of as a pairing and thus know what to expect. They bring high work rate always willing to run for the badge and won’t give in when it gets tough. Defensively, they are solid and can cover the back four well seen especially in games against Manchester City where United had to defend for much of the game due to City’s expert ball retention ability but held them out before swiftly hitting them on the counter-attack. McTominay’s height and aggression brings a real ariel presence and can help to win the midfield battle due to his tough tackling and determination to win the ball.

Fred carries a phenomenal engine throughout and never stops pressing and hassling the opposition. However, what this duo lack is technical ability, especially offensively. As a duo they are two separate players doing one mans job; neither player is a specialist defensive midfielder, but Solskjaer has often felt to get the job done you need both. Furthermore, a major weakness of their game is ball progression. A key role in the defensive midfield position is the transition of the ball; they must be able to pick the ball up off the centre half’s and then move it forward with speed.

McTominay and Fred struggle to do this due to their weak first touch, passing and progressive dribbling. Thus, when paired together, the ball is often held around the midfield for far too long taking multiple touches to find a simple pass. This completely slows United’s attacking flow as by the time the ball reaches the final third the opposition’s defence is well organised. Furthermore, because of their weak passing, it can limit how well the ball is progressed often resulting in the forwards dropping deeper and deeper to receive the ball which destroys all attacking shape and make it easier for the oppositions defence.

Therefore, as a duo they bring stability, but due to their weakness on the ball can give possession away which makes it easier for the opposition to dictate the games.

The next partnership is Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. This partnership was most used post lockdown last year and was highly effective at the time. Its biggest strength is balance, Unlike McTominay and Fred there is balance between a natural defensive midfielder in Matic and then a more creative player in Pogba. This means despite not having two players to cover, the defence is stable as due to Matic’s elite positioning, awareness and ability to intercept he can shield the back four on his own. This then leaves Pogba more license to get forward and with his passing range and strong ball progression abilities, transitioning the ball becomes far easier and more effective.

Matic picks the ball up off the defenders, quickly passing it to Pogba who in turn, can find a 40-yard pass if necessary or make a defence splitting pass through the midfield into the final third for the attackers. This creates a smooth flow and speed to United’s game which is much harder for the opposition to defend. However, one major weakness is energy. Unlike McTominay and Fred in which you’re guaranteed tenacity and energy, with Pogba and Matic this isn’t the case. With Matic’s lack of speed he makes up for it with defensive positioning, but if the opposition team attempt to swamp the midfield it can leave Matic slightly vulnerable.

In addition, Pogba isn’t renowned for his defensive abilities and can be susceptible to not tracking back which would expose Matic even more. Furthermore, as a player Pogba can be clumsy when defending, and has a knack for giving penalties away. This as a trait for a player who is expected to track back and provide cover in the box is a weakness. Therefore, in high energy games this duo can be slightly vulnerable and become a liability but their high quality on the ball means often even against imposing midfields they can retain the ball well keeping a real control on the game and thus not being put into these issues.

Thirdly, there’s the partnership of Matic and Donny van de Beek. This is a relatively untested duo which has emerged in pre-season due to the lack of internationals fit after the Euros. This duo is highly intelligent and would always be one step ahead of the oppositional team. With Van de Beek’s awareness he can play himself out of trouble and prevent United from losing the ball. He like Matic has a good passing range on him, with a real ability to play cute one-twos with teammates making space for others. This will help United’s transition of the ball because both midfielders can pass well and are very comfortable with the ball at feet and can transition it smoothly.

Defensively, although not particularly tall, Van de Beek has good tenacity and can put a tackle in to turnover possession for his side. Furthermore, with Matic next to him it provides the necessary freedom to let him roam forward. Also, Van de Beek is a more energetic player than Pogba and so won’t let himself get ran out of the game. However, he’s not got such a brilliant passing range so can’t create a chance out of nothing like Pogba. Finally, the midfield with Pogba and Fred or McTominay. On paper if you mix Pogba’s attacking output and combine it with Fred’s or McTominay’s defensive work it would create a strong midfield but in reality, it’s the opposite.

Individually, Fred and Mctominay don’t have a strong enough footballing brain especially defensively to properly shield the back four. They can’t read the game like Matic and so United would miss that player who can put in a crucial interception to save a goal scoring opportunity. Furthermore, as Pogba isn’t the strongest defensively, a natural defensive midfielder is necessary and neither Fred nor McTominay provide this. However, as a midfield, due to Mctominay or Fred’s athleticism and stamina, the midfield wouldn’t get outworked and there would be enough speed in there which can be lacking with Matic.

Overall, I feel that despite issues with each pivot, he should use them all. Although previously he’s liked to have one partnership he sticks to, I feel different players will be more effective against different opponents. Against Leeds United due to the impeccable fitness standards Marcelo Bielsa inflicts on his men, Solskjaer used a more energetic duo like McTominay and Fred. But, in the future, against more defensive teams, Solskjaer should look to utilise players like Donny van de Beek and his intricate and clever play style to break down deep blocks.

However, if Solskjaer is to stick to one midfield I think he should, when possible, pick Matic and then either Pogba or Van de Beek as his partner. Last season Pogba played multiple games off the left due to Solskjaer insistence on using Mctominay and Fred and so with Rashford’s injury he may look to move Pogba back to the left and use Van de Beek and Matic as the midfield pivot to maximise creativity.

In Conclusion, I hope that although McTominay and Fred have their qualities, they are used more sparingly, and he goes with a more offensive approach this season as United with the signings of Varane and Jadon Sancho have the quality to dictate games, dominating oppositions and ultimately bring trophies back to Old Trafford.

Written by Ethan Bents

Opinion: Paul Pogba – Virtue or Virus?

Since Paul Pogba arrived in the summer of 2016 for a then world record transfer fee of £89.3 million, he’s been the target of various criticism throughout his time at United for many things. He hasn’t just been targeted for his performances on the pitch, but also his sly agent Mino Raiola and weirdly his haircuts.

The British press never took a preference to Pogba and thus he’s had to fight to have a positive outlook of him represented in the media. Under Jose Mourinho, Pogba and Jose had a bust up and tensions grew and relationships worsened to the point where the main dilemma within the team was will Mourinho be out or will Mourinho get Pogba out.

‘Virus’ was a common term debated amongst many, as people discussed whether Pogba or Mourinho was the virus at Manchester United football club. As a result of Mourinho’s sacking in December of 2019, Pogba was the one to outstay Mourinho, but is Pogba being associated with a virus warranted? As a personality, Pogba is a happy, outgoing and positive character that lightens up the atmosphere in the dressing room.

As much to the likely dismay of Roy Keane, multiple videos have circulated around social media of Pogba in the changing rooms bright and smiling, dancing around with teammates like Eric Bailly and Jesse Lingard.

Some critics view this as inappropriate and thus when he doesn’t put his best performance out will use that to justify why Pogba should focus on his football more. Cohesion in any team sport is pivotal and through Pogba’s outgoing personality he connects some of the players as they embrace each other’s energy and bounce off it. This for atmosphere in the dressing room is only positive and despite some criticism is a good thing and should continue. Away from the changing rooms, Pogba has faced heavy criticism due to his frequency and originality of his haircuts.

In the modern game, footballers are no longer there just for the games and Pogba is the perfect example of this as he represents Adidas and will model for them. However, the off-field antic that is haircuts draws the greatest attention in the media, as Pogba often turns up to matches with different haircuts and if he underperforms, he is subject to a heap of criticism due to his performances not living up to his ever-changing haircuts.

Paul Pogba training at St Andrews, Scotland during the final pre-season training camp of the summer.

Furthermore, during his time at United, Pogba has struggled with injuries putting him out of a total of 71 games. Therefore, when Pogba posts on his active social medias showcasing his new haircuts, fans would then get annoyed as they’d see more haircuts from Pogba then games played. Mino Raiola is Pogba’s next big reason as to why he receives an abundance of criticism.

Mino Raiola is a loud, ‘mouthy’ agent who isn’t respectful to clubs when he wants to move a client on. On multiple occasions, Raiola has spoken out to the media presenting the idea that Pogba wants to move away and that he’ll try get him out of the club.

In addition, often the timing of these statements came when United weren’t on their best of form or had big games ahead of them and so this all further increased the scrutiny on him as many felt any Raiola client was not one that they wanted at Manchester United football club and thus Pogba had to go.

Finally, conduct. Paul Pogba’s conduct despite wanting to leave has been exceptional and should not be overlooked as players like Harry Kane despite being ‘one of their own’ have dealt with their issues through poor misconduct. Whereas, Pogba, has always attended training and never put himself out of place, always regarding the club with such high respect. 

Overall, in terms of personality I feel he is subject to too much abuse and people will look for any ways to hate on him and his personality due to performance issues especially if United are struggling. On performance it wouldn’t be outrageous to say Paul Pogba has underachieved at United. When he arrived, he came to win United the big trophies like the Champions League and the Premier League, but hasn’t done so.

Inconsistency is the key word to define his time at United, as some games he’d turn up and show his full potential like against Manchester City at the Etihad turning around a two-goal deficit to win it 3-2; But other games, he can go missing and be susceptible to being pressed and losing the ball in the midfield leaving the defence vulnerable to a counter attack.

Paul Pogba in Manchester United’s final pre-season match of the summer, beating Everton 4-0.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likes Pogba a lot but doesn’t always fully trust him in the pivot and sticks to Scott McTominay and Fred to stabilise the midfield in return for a loss of creativity. Furthermore, another topic of discussion about Pogba’s performances have been effort.

For France, Pogba always puts in his all and will clearly do anything for France to win, be it running all over the pitch and making sure to track back; but for United he can look disinterested and just jog around the pitch and not track back leaving the fullback isolated when he plays off the left and the midfield weak when he’s in the pivot.

However, Pogba is a fantastic footballer and his ability is undoubted when he’s at his best. Many see the success of Manchester United as dependant on if Solskjaer can get the best out of him as when he plays at his best, he is unplayable. His long-range passing ability is out of this world and his ball progression can be very effective due to his slick dribbling for such a tall player and powerful running due to his strength and speed. He also has a knack for long range goals which can prove essential when playing teams using a low block as they are hard to break down and his ability to shoot from range can unlock this.

When he plays, Pogba massively effects the team as they look much better creatively because he lowers the burden on Bruno Fernandes to be the sole creator in the team as he provides that extra bit of passing prowess and vision to add to the attacking mix. But it can be argued that he’s defensively not that strong in that pivot and can give away too many penalties.

Overall, Pogba is not a virus to Manchester United football club and is in indeed the opposite as he brings positive energy with fantastic conduct and world class footballing ability. He would be a huge loss to United on and off the field as his impact in the changing rooms shouldn’t be discredited and his impact on the pitch for the team is incredibly high as he’s a fantastic footballer that will be very difficult to replace.

Written by Ethan Bents

January Review: Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Paul Pogba all had a good month despite mixed results for United

Manchester United played nine matches in January making it just as busy as December, where the same number of matches were played. United started the month with a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in the Premier League, which was a good start to the month. However, a 2-0 defeat in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup at the hands of Manchester City added some disappointment to the month. United then beat Watford 1-0 in the Emirates FA Cup, earning a place in the fourth round against Liverpool. Next came a 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the Premier League, a frustrating match for both teams.

United then came from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage in the Premier League, putting more pressure on Liverpool this season, which would change as the month grew on. The FA Cup clash with Liverpool was a good match for United, resulting in a 3-2 victory, reaching the fifth round of the competition this season. Following that match, a 2-1 defeat to the worst team in the Premier League, Sheffield United came, which was a disappointment for United. The month was ended with a visit to the Emirates to face Arsenal, which resulted in a 0-0 draw, ending the month in a frustrating manner.

January Statistics:

Nine matches played; five wins, two draws and two defeats. 11 Premier League points won, a place in the fourth and fifth rounds of the Emirates FA Cup. 10 goals scored, eight goals conceded – four clean sheets. United entered 2021 in good form and were looking to get through another tough month in domestic competition. They were knockout of the Carabao Cup at the semi-final stage by Manchester City but reached the fourth and the fifth rounds of the Emirates FA Cup with victories over both Watford and Liverpool. In the league, United struggled at times with a defeat to Sheffield United and draws with Liverpool and Arsenal.

1 January – Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa – Premier League

Goals: Anthony Martial 40′, Bruno Fernandes 62′; Bertrand Traore 58′

Assists: Aaron Wan-Bissaka 40′; Jack Grealish 58′

Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford in the first Premier League match of 2021. Anthony Martial opened the scoring with a header in the 40th minute of the match (his fifth goal of the season), assisted by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Villa then equalised in the 58th minute through Bertrand Traore, assisted by Jack Grealish. Minutes later, Paul Pogba was taken down in the box by Douglas Luiz and a penalty was given which Bruno Fernandes stepped up for, scoring his 15th goal of the season. Villa pressure United at the end of the match with United having chances to extend their lead.

6 January – Manchester United 0-2 Manchester City – Carabao Cup

Goals: John Stones 50′, Fernandinho 83′

Assists: N/A

Manchester United were beaten 2-0 by Manchester City in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup at Old Trafford. It was a pretty even first half with United starting well but City soon took control of the match. Both teams had the ball in the back of the net in the first half of the match but none were given. It took City 50 minutes, five minutes into the second half to draw first blood on United with John Stones scoring the first goal of the game. United had chances to get back into the game but did not take them. City doubled their lead through Fernandinho in the 83rd minute, earning a place in the first final of the season. Their go-to trophy.

9 January – Manchester United 1-0 Watford – Emirates FA Cup

Goals: Scott McTominay 5′

Assists: Alex Telles 5′

Manchester United beat Watford 1-0 in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford. Scott McTominay, who captained United in this match, scored the only goal of the game in the fifth minute, assisted by Alex Telles from the corner. There were a few chances throughout the match but United seemed to be out of sorts, as were the visitors. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be happy to see his club into the fourth round of the FA Cup with the draw for that and the fifth round being drawn on Monday evening. United got back to winning ways after being knocked out of the Carabao Cup earlier in the week. Burnley next in the Premier League.

12 January – Burnley 0-1 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Paul Pogba 71′

Assists: Marcus Rashford 71′

Manchester United beat Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor in the Premier League. It put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table. Paul Pogba scored the only goal of the match after playing the ball out to Marcus Rashford on the right with the England forward playing back to the Frenchman whose effort was slightly deflected into the back of the net. Bruno Fernandes did not have the best of matches, but played a part. Anthony Martial will be a worry, coming off injured late into added time. The positivity is that United are top of the league and deserve it.

17 January – Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: N/A

Assists: N/A

Manchester United drew 0-0 with Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League. It was a game of few credible chances. Perhaps the best opportunity was from Bruno Fernandes after United won a free-kick in the first half of the match. The ball dipped towards the top far corner, just missing the target and seeing United frustrated. Marcus Rashford had a chance in the second half with Edinson Cavani splitting away from him, Rashford having the ball and the three defensive players and being marked off the ball with Cavani unmarked and in space which could have resulted in the first goal of the game, if he had it.

20 January – Fulham 1-2 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Ademola Lookman 5′; Edinson Cavani 21′, Paul Pogba 65′

Assists: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa 5′

Manchester United beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage in the Premier League. Ademola Lookman scored the opening goal in the fifth minute as United saw themselves on the back foot from the start of the match. However, it took 16 minutes for United to get back into the match with Bruno Fernandes launching a ferocious shot on goal, hitting the inside of the post only for Fred to keep the attack in play. Edinson Cavani was the equaliser for United, scoring his fifth goal of the season for his club. Paul Pogba scored what turned into the winner for United, with a sublime finish which was good to see.

24 January – Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool – Emirates FA Cup

Goals: Mason Greenwood 26′, Marcus Rashford 48′, Bruno Fernandes 78′; Mohamed Salah 18′, 58′

Assists: Marcus Rashford 26′, Mason Greenwood 48′; Roberto Firmino 18′, 58’

Manchester United beat Liverpool 3-2 in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford. Mohamed Salah opened the scoring in the 18th minute of the match with Mason Greenwood equalising just eight minutes later. Marcus Rashford then put United ahead in the 48th minute with Salah striking once more in the 58th minute to level the score. From the bench, Bruno Fernandes found the winner from a free-kick which was such a great strike to beat Alisson for the third time in the match. This victory feels so good, not for Liverpool though. United will face West Ham United at Old Trafford in the next round.

27 January – Manchester United 1-2 Sheffield United – Premier League

Goals: Harry Maguire 64′; Kean Bryan 23′, Oliver Burke 74′

Assists: Alex Telles 64′; John Fleck 23′, John Lundstram 74′

Manchester United were beaten 2-1 by Sheffield United at Old Trafford. It was another bad day for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who had been knocked off the top spot in the Premier League table by Manchester City on Tuesday evening. Kean Bryan opened the scoring for the Blades in the 23rd minute of the match with Oliver Burke scoring the winner in the 74th minute of the match. Harry Maguire equalised in the 64th minute of the match but in terms of inspiration, United were not up for the challenge in a dreadful evening at the Theatre of Dreams. United will need to pick up the pieces before get face Arsenal on Saturday.

30 January – Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: N/A

Assists: N/A

Manchester United drew 0-0 with Arsenal at the Emirates in the Premier League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had the stronger team with Arsenal suffering with a few injuries. It was a game of few credible chances, something that will unnerve United, who have been playing a poor brand of football in their last two matches, resulting in a defeat and a draw. Arsenal will be the happier of thereto teams, winning four points and keeping two clean sheets against United this season. However, the gap between the two teams is still ten points, so Arsenal have a lot of work ahead of them to close the gap.

Luke Shaw – eight appearances (seven starts), 638 minutes, one MOTM award.

January was an impressive month for Luke Shaw. He made eight appearances, starting seven times, playing 638 minutes in total and winning the Man of the Match award in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League. Whilst it initially looked like Alex Telles would take the left-back role from Shaw earlier in the season, the English left-back has soon risen in stature to make the position his own. It is good to see him in form again, which has been ruined in the past with injury, fatigue and fitness issues. The player seems to have turned a corner at the club, which is great for both the player and the club.

Harry Maguire – nine appearances (eight starts), 765 minutes, one goal.

The Captain has been one of the most important players for the club in January. He made nine appearances, starting eight times, playing all but 45 minutes for the club in January. Harry Maguire played a total of 765 minutes during January, coming off the bench at half time against Watford in the FA Cup. He scored United’s only goal in the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United, a former club of the defender. United kept four clean sheets in January, three of those in the Premier League, which was important for United to continue their improvement, which stuttered at the end of the month.

Paul Pogba – eight appearances (eight starts), 720 minutes, two goals and two MOTM awards.

December was a positive month for Paul Pogba, but January was something he built because of the prior month. The Frenchman missed just one match, the FA Cup victory over Watford. Pogba’s best performances in January came in the Premier League, scoring goals against Burnley and Fulham and being named the Man of the Match in both of those matches. Against Aston Villa at the start of the month, Pogba won a penalty, which Bruno Fernandes scored, enabling the Red Devils to win the match which was a great start for the club in January. Pogba will be seeking to make February a positive month for the club too.

Notable Mentions: Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Scott McTominay

Eric Bailly had a good January, in the matches that he did play in, playing a total of 315 minutes in four appearances during the month and earning one Man of the Match award for his performance against Aston Villa in which United won 2-1. Bailly could be a good partner for Harry Maguire at the club, providing he can stay fit. Alex Telles was another notable mention, making two appearances, playing a total of 172 minutes on the pitch and assisting twice. Scott McTominay was the final notable mention, making eight appearances, playing 453 minutes of football, scoring one goal and winning one Man of the Match award – against Watford.

Who is your Player of the Month for January 2021?

A look at what lies ahead in February…

United will play eight matches in February, one less than in both December and January. United will continue their efforts in the Premier League, facing Southampton (H), Everton (H), West Bromwich Albion (A), Newcastle United (H) and Chelsea (A), also vying to reach the quarter-final of the Emirates FA Cup, providing they beat West Ham United (H). Solskjaer’s side will also play their first matches in the UEFA Europa League, facing Real Sociedad both away and at home in the round of 32 stage of the competition, hoping to reach the round of 16 stage, following their group stage exit from the UEFA Champions League.

2 February – Southampton, Old Trafford – Premier League

6 February – Everton, Old Trafford – Premier League

9 February – West Ham United, Old Trafford – Emirates FA Cup

14 February – West Bromwich Albion, The Hawthorns – Premier League

18 February – Real Sociedad, Anoeta Stadium – UEFA Europa League

21 February – Newcastle United, Old Trafford – Premier League

25 February – Real Sociedad, Old Trafford – UEFA Europa League

28 February – Chelsea, Stamford Bridge – Premier League

Written by John Walker

Opinion: Should Paul Pogba leave Manchester United this summer, who could replace him?

On the 7 December, reporter Fabrizio Romano reported that Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, had claimed that the Frenchman was unhappy and could “no longer express” himself at the club. It was 24 hours before the crucial Champions League tie against RB Leipzig and only 48 hours after Pogba had helped United come back against West Ham in the league.

Since then Pogba’s performances have, arguably, been his best in a United shirt since Ole Gunner Solskjaer first joined the club as interim manager. Raiola had said that it would best if he went in January. He has, however, since backtracked on that claiming that “in January the great players hardly move.” If Pogba does truly want to leave, United will not want to let him go on a free, so 2021 would see Pogba moving on. If that’s the case, who will United replace him with?

Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish was heavily linked with United at the end of the last season, before ending speculation by signing a new five-year contract with Aston Villa. Of course, new contracts mean very little. Often it is just to ensure that the club gets more money from the players suitors. Jack Grealish almost single handily kept Villa from the drop last season and he and his team started this season in inspired form, with the standout 7-2 victory over Liverpool still fresh in all of their fan’s minds. 

Grealish himself was on fire with four goals and six assists in their first seven league games. His goals have dried up a little, not scoring since the end of November, however his side haven’t suffered too much, losing just one of those games and he continues to be highly influential. United are still rumoured to want the player, however, Villa are expected to rebuff any moves in January. If United received a substantial fee for Pogba, they could put all that money towards a move for the Villa captain, who has also forced himself into the England set up as well. With both him and Fernandes on the pitch, the United forwards would receive plenty of chances every game. 

United fans were thrown into a frenzy when they saw Solskjaer talking to Grealish as they left the pitch together last month, but it will take a huge fee to persuade Villa and their wealthy owners to sell. 

A defensive midfielder

Of course, the position that many United fans believe needs an upgrade, is in defensive midfield. United might feel that they have enough options in Pogba’s position (more on that shortly) and decide to use the funds raised to sign a top defensive midfielder. 

If they want a player who has experienced the Premier League but is young enough to make that position his own for many years to come then they have two options available. Wilfred Ndidi and Declan Rice. Both players have made over 100 appearances, both are full internationals and both have burgeoning reputations. West Ham have been much better this season and one big reason for that is Rice. Turning 22 a few days ago, he has made 37 interceptions this season alongside 124 recoveries, highlighting his ability to break up play. His passing is also vastly improved in the last couple of seasons and with the Euro’s pushed back a year, an impressive showing there could inflate his price even more. 

Wilfred Ndidi (24) started this season injured and his return has shown his importance to Brendan Rodger’s Leicester side. In the nine games that he has played, The Foxes have won seven, losing just once. In the nine games other games, they only won four. That Leicester side, you feel, is the blueprint to the balance Solskjaer wants in his side. Ndidi is the ball-winning midfielder, with 82 recoveries in those nine games. Youri Tielemens is the box-to-box midfielder and James Maddison is the Bruno Fernandes of the team. Ndidi allows the other two to do what they need to do in the final third of the pitch, safely knowing that Ndidi will mop anything up in behind them. 

Eduardo Camavinga

More left-field but no less spoken about in the tabloid transfer rumours, is Eduardo Camavinga. If United wanted to make a calculated risk on a young player, then he might be the right fit. Just 18, he made his breakthrough in the Rennes side last season, helping the French side to make the Champions League. He would then make his French national team debut, scoring an overhead kick in his first start. Pogba, himself, lavished the youngster with praise after that goal and United at one point this season were seen as big challengers to Real Madrid for the player. Showing an ability to get forward and also good intelligence in defence, he could be the perfect box-to-box replacement for Pogba. 

United may want to see more goals and assists from him if he was going to be asked to get forward, but at his age there is plenty of time to develop. However, do United want a player who still needs some developing or do they need a player ready to start now? Of course, they could sign him and slowly bed him into the side and use a certain player in the squad that many are crying out to get some game time.

Donny van de Beek

Ah the conundrum of Donny van de Beek. No doubt he is a classy player. He shows that each time he plays. He wants to play forward quickly, one or two touch was the Ajax way after all. However, he hasn’t had that much game time this season. He would fit in that box-to-box midfield position, the position he played for Ajax with so much success, 28 league goals and 21 assists in the last three seasons, shows he can influence the game higher up the pitch. At just 23, he is going to get many, many games at Old Trafford and Gary Neville recently gave an interesting theory on van de Beek. Neville claiming that van de Beek “might have been signed to replace Paul Pogba” could very much be on the money. 

In a way it makes sense. Solskjaer might have known that Pogba wanted to leave back in the summer. On the face of it, van de Beek was a strange summer transfer. It came out of nowhere and van de Beek seemed to be on the brink of moving to Real Madrid. If van de Beek spends the year getting accustomed to England, he could be ready to nail down a first team place come next season. Add in one of the defensive midfielders above and van de Beek could be an integral part of the United team for the next few years. 

The youth team

Of course, maybe United won’t replace him at all. Solskjaer is known for bringing players up from the reserves into the first team. He has handed out numerous debuts and Mason Greenwood and Axel Tuanzebe have both seen an increase in first team action in the last season and a half. United also have a few midfielders who could play that box-to-box midfield position. 

Hannibal Mejbri is highly touted and United fans have been excited about him since his signing from Monaco. James Garner is spending the season on loan at Watford and Solskjaer will be eager to see his development on his return. Ethan Gailbraith received his United debut in that Europa League game vs Astana last season. He signed a fresh three-year deal last October and is seen as someone who could be an unsung player for United in the next few years. United will also be hoping that they can tie down Arnau Puigmal to a longer-term contract, with his deal due to run out this summer. The fear is that he has he sights on a return to Barcelona, which as seen in the past with Gerard Pique, will be hard to prevent. He is currently enjoying his best season with the under 23’s and can also play down the right flank, both in defence and attack. All four of these players are very different to Pogba (most box-to-box midfielders are) and they might be the way Solskjaer goes if he wants to use funds to bolster other areas in the squad. 

Written by Huw Rawlings

The problems with Paul Pogba that need to be solved – a lack of consistency and a lack respect

Paul Pogba left Manchester United as a free agent in the summer of 2012, which at the time was considered a loss for United and then manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba left for Juventus, signing as a free agent which meant that United would only receive compensation for the development of the player whilst he was part of the academy, which stood at £800,000, leaving the club at the age of 19. Pogba made his first team debut for United in the 2011/12 season, making a total of seven appearances, playing in the Premier League, the Carling Cup and the UEFA Europa League – playing a total of 195 minutes of football.

Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola seemed to open his mouth again, negatively (in relation to United) regarding Pogba’s future at the Old Trafford club. He gave the impression that the Frenchman wants to leave the club, which could well be the case. Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano covered the quotes from Italian news source Tuttosport which talked about Erling Braut Haaland and Pogba even talking about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The comments came just over 24 hours before United’s UEFA Champions League clash with RB Leipzig in Germany which is a make or break match for United. Raiola was quoted as saying:

“[Erling Braut] Haaland is like [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic when he was 20. [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer is a good guy but he was wrong when he said that Erling is like [Romelu] Lukaku… it would be better if Solskjaer thought about finding a way to make [Paul] Pogba play like a champion, instead of talking about Haaland.

“Haaland is like a painting, he is like Munch’s Scream because he causes fear in the defenders. He called me after being substituted at 85: he had scored four goals, he wanted to score another. He was furious! He wants to be the best also if he’s playing checkers.

“I can’t talk about Haaland release clause. Rumors say Real Madrid want him? This is not new to me… but he is very happy with Borussia Dortmund. Erling wants to win the UEFA Champions League. When he’ll leave the club, it will be for his ambition and not for money.

“Maybe Juventus could be Pogba’s next club… why not? The relationship between Paul, Juventus and former teammates is excellent. But with the Covid impact, many clubs can’t sign him. For sure, it’s time to leave Manchester United.”

Raiola stated that Solskjaer should be finding a way for Pogba to play like a champion. Surely that would be down to Pogba to do that. Over the past few seasons, Pogba has been average for United which is a problem for both the player and the club. If Pogba was all that his agent thinks that he is, surely United would not have had to sign both Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek over the last two transfer windows (January 2020 and Summer 2020). Gary Neville tweeted on Monday evening, suggesting that Pogba will have know about Raiola’s comments and if not, he should be coming forward with a statement to distance himself.

A lot of United supporters have been less than impressed with Pogba’s performances for the club over the past few seasons. In the 2018/19 season, Pogba scored 16 goals and 11 assists in 47 appearances – which was the best season he has ever had for a club. At the time, it seemed like a defining moment for positivity but turned into what seems like the peak of his career. The following season saw him on the sidelines through injury for the majority of it and this season, he has been less than impressive when he has played. It seems that Pogba sees other people to blame for his demise, when he would be the first person to apportion blame to.

Before Fernandes signed for United, Pogba would most likely be the player that player in the number ten role at the club, which is a position he had played in for a lot of the time under Jose Mourinho. But with Fernandes’ start to life at United, Pogba would have to settle for a role out of that area either in a midfield diamond or a midfield two, playing in a pivot role. This is clearly not good enough for Pogba or his agent. Not that long ago, France manager Didier Deschamps criticised United for how they were treating Pogba only for the player to play in a similar position for France and perform poorly for his country.

Up until today, Tuesday 8 December 2020, Pogba has played 170 times since making his return to the club in the summer of 2016. He has scored 34 goals and 35 assists playing 13,482 minutes of football. Statistically, this means that the Frenchman has offered 0.2 goals per appearance and 0.41 goal contributions (goals and assists) per appearance. He has offered one goal every 397 minutes with a goal contribution every 195 minutes. Some may think there are great stats but for a player that only seems to want to be the main man in the team, the stats are quite poor.

Fernandes has been at United since the end of January, not even spending a full calendar year at the Old Trafford club yet and has better stats than Pogba. The Portuguese midfielder has made 38 appearances for the club, scoring 22 goals and 15 assists in 2,987 minutes of football. This means that Fernandes has scored 0.58 goals per match and 0.97 goal contributions (goals and assists) every appearance. He has scored a goal every 136 minutes, with a goal contribution every 81 minutes. This is why Fernandes is the player that will most often play in the number ten role at the club.

If Pogba wants to take this position, he will need to out perform Fernandes or at least show that he is capable of doing what the Portuguese midfielder does, which does not seem all that likely, in my opinion. It is a shame that this is happening. Pogba seemed excited to return to United four years ago but the summer before last showed that he wanted a change, which also suggests that everything he said in 2016 was just for the sake of saying something, not saying it with meaning. United need to deal with Pogba in the right way, ensuring that they are not lumbered with a player that does not want to be there.

The question would be who would want him and who could afford him? The footballing world is still aiming to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Supporters are just starting to return to matches in small numbers and it will be a long time before clubs start to recover financially from this. Juventus are said to be interested in re-signing the Frenchman but at this moment in time, it seems unlikely that they could afford him without adding a player, or a number of players, in a possible deal. That could easily be scuppered as United will not necessarily want players in exchange for the Frenchman. A cash deal would be next to impossible.

There have been suggestions of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the Old Trafford club, so if United were interested in making that happen, there could be some interest in the deal but it would not necessarily be a great deal for United, given the age of the Portuguese winger and the fact his resale value will greatly reduce over time so United would be wise to ask for the player plus cash for a deal to happen. Pogba has also been linked to Real Madrid and Barcelona over the past few summers and it would seem that both clubs would find a possible deal for the Frenchman hard to make possible – for the same reason as Juventus.

It is an unfortunate situation for Pogba and United to be in. Pogba’s contract would be set to expire in the summer of 2021 but when he signed his contract in the summer of 2016, there was a clause added for a further year, which has seemingly been activated, although there has been no confirmation from the Old Trafford club regarding this. Ideally, if Pogba wanted to stay at United and ‘finish what he started’, he should get rid of his agent and concentrate on his career not some pipe dream that Raiola has been telling him about – of course, that is just my opinion, not an actual fact. I don’t think Raiola is a positive role model.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW