Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leave Paul Pogba out of the picture for good after hatching his man for the win in Newcastle?
It seemed like the kind of team selection that gives a manager a response or leads him to dismissal.
On this occasion, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came out on the right and has now left himself with the biggest issue of his time at Manchester United. Is he brave enough to build a team without Paul Pogba in it?
This was a much improved performance from Solskjaer’s United. Yes, the opposition was meek, but had yet to be defeated after they got a goal. United did it comfortably and with a bit of style in the last moments.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made changes on Saturday for Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Newcastle
Paul Pogba (above) was one of five players dropped for the win at St James’ Park
However, Pogba didn’t start the game and was not fundamental to it, while the dude who played in his preferred position was once again front and center.
Simply put, Pogba would like to play where Bruno Fernandes plays. He wants to be the player who connects the back to the front, who makes key passes in the last third, who runs ahead to score the occasional goal.
The Frenchman is good at it, but his problem is that Fernandes is better at the moment.
Two-in-one doesn’t always work no matter who you are. When United signed Juan Sebastian Veron from Lazio for around £ 30m two decades ago, the Premier League was waiting for its impact. He was a player at his peak, the Argentinian.
Pogba was a substitute in the second half, but is stuck in Bruno Fernandes’ shadow at Man United
It looked like Summer’s signing by Sir Alex Ferguson, who was keen to turn his team’s 1999 Champions League triumph into a period of European dominance.
But Veron flopped at United and it wasn’t because he was a bad player or that he didn’t try enough or didn’t care enough about him. No. He flopped because United already had a player named Roy Keane who did everything Veron liked to do.
United didn’t need two such players and, faced with a newcomer’s challenge, Keane would never lose that fight.
I remember traveling to Switzerland around that time to see Veron play for his country. He was imperious. Everything Argentina did went through him.
He must have touched the ball dozens of times. Back at United, he looked lost, almost a passenger. He was eventually sold.
Pogba’s career at Old Trafford is heading in the same direction as Juan Sebastian Veron (above)
So back to Pogba. The only way the 27-year-old pushes himself into Solskjaer’s team is by adapting.
He has the intelligence and vision and physical traits to be a very good player and the path to that role is only blocked by Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic. Hardly any titans of the modern game.
But the word is, Pogba doesn’t want that part. He wants the other. So we’ll see what Solskjaer is doing now.
This was certainly a brave approach from the Norwegian in Newcastle. Clearly still annoyed by his team’s 6-1 surrender at home to Tottenham two weeks ago, he made five changes to his squad. It seemed like a gamble.
Fred and McTominay’s skydiving in the line-up seemed like a step back, as did handing over a starting shirt to Juan Mata.
Scott McTominay (left) continued his good United form with another good play in midfield
United often looks quite pedestrian when that trio plays and here they have already been bothered by the injury and suspension absence of the fast Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial respectively.
United played well, however. They defended vigorously when needed – Harry Maguire was excellent – then passed the ball well enough in the final third to open up a Newcastle defense that lacked the courage – or perhaps instruction – to press on them.
Marcus Rashford seemed to relish the responsibility that came with the absence of his two attacking partners, while Mata’s use of the ball was exemplary. If the 32-year-old Spaniard had been a meter faster, what a Premier League player he would have been.
Marcus Rashford (left) and Bruno Fernandes (right) were impressed with the scoring in the Newcastle victory
Fundamental to the night, however, was Fernandes. Forced to deny reports from Portugal last week that he already has doubts about Solskjaer, he played here as if he had a point to prove.
Fernandes brought energetic rhythm to this United performance. He missed a penalty, but his persistent quality saw his team achieve the victory they deserved late in the game.
Pogba got 20 minutes off the bench as United chased the game and won, but is unlikely to hold out for long.
It seems that Solskjaer’s courage as a coach is about to be put to the test.