Manchester United looked to have turned a corner with wins over Tottenham and Manchester City coming in the space of a few days. However, another league defeat at the hands of Watford has seen Solskjaer’s side slump back down to 8th in the table.
The loss was further proof of United’s problems against the lesser sides. A lack of creativity has been the ongoing theme in games where they are allowed to dominate the ball. When there is no space in behind, United tend to struggle.
Paul Pogba was introduced in the 64th minute and United looked a far better side with him dictating play. His dynamic runs from deep and searching cross-field passes opened up the game and provided chances for his teammates.
Paul Pogba’s game by numbers vs. Watford:
90% pass accuracy
2 passes into the box
2/2 shots on target
2 ball recoveries
2/2 long balls
1 through ball
1 key pass
Man Utd took 10 shots in the 26 minutes he played and 7 in the 64 he didn’t. ?? pic.twitter.com/UWdnQkaHx6
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 22, 2019
What does he offer?
Since his injury early in the season, United have been without a playmaker capable of opening up defences, but in the 26 minutes Pogba played, he showed United fans what they’ve been missing.
Successful long-range balls showed his ability to transition from defence to attack with a single pass, and his quick-thinking around the box looked the most likely route back into the game for United.
Pogba brought an urgency and class to a United team that had looked rather hopeless for the hour preceding his arrival.
The Frenchman could be Solskjaer’s answer for opening up teams who sit back against the Reds. Given a free role in United’s midfield, Pogba could effectively operate between the opposition midfield and defensive lines, giving his side a creative outlet in an otherwise flat setup.
United’s midfield limitations
As a result of injury, the United manager has had no choice but to create a partnership between Scott McTominay and Fred which has had numerous ups and downs. Against the top six, they have been superb at intercepting passes and feeding the ball to United’s rapid forwards to counter-attack.
On the other hand, against the lesser teams, their limitations become far more apparent. The game against Watford was a perfect example, as both defensive midfielders failed to look forward quickly enough and passes went astray.
Pogba’s return to fitness is a huge boost for United fans as his attacking talents work well alongside the defensive solidarity of McTominay and Fred. In games where they are expecting to have the lion’s share of possession, we will likely see Solskjaer pair one of those with Pogba, giving him the freedom to roam and influence the game.
There are still question marks surrounding the future of Pogba, but it would be a devastating blow to see the superstar leave in January. His swagger and creative abilities complement the fast, direct nature of United’s other attackers and he could be crucial for United if they wish to mount a challenge for the top four in 2020.