Probably for the first time this season, Paul Pogba has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a headache that he doesn’t mind dealing with.
The French midfielder put on a fine match against Burnley on Tuesday with a sumptuous winner for Manchester United, topping the Premier League for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
It continued what appeared to be a remarkable resurgence for the 27-year-old, following comments from his agent Mino Raiola that his time at Old Trafford will be over by the end of the season.
Paul Pogba scored the winner for Manchester United in Burnley, making it the best of the league
His sweet goal completed another great performance in his return to form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
His resurgence came after agent Mino Raiola claimed his time at the club was up
But whether that claim still exists or not, Pogba’s focus will now be the biggest game of the season to date as they take on the team they just replaced at the top of the pile in arch-rival Liverpool on Sunday.
But despite his – and that of the club – recent outstanding displays, will Solskjaer think twice before deciding to switch tactics and add solidity rather than flair when faced with the Anfield side’s attacking threat?
The team that put the Norwegian down in the 1-0 win over Burnley was designed with a specific purpose, to combat the hosts’ physical game plan. It was a great United team. Eric Bailly was in the back, Pogba and Nemanja Matic occupied the middle and Edinson Cavani was handed a starting top.
For the same reason, the Norwegian will have to make even more changes to help United counter the pace of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara’s wizardry in the middle.
But the best way to do that isn’t immediately clear.
Next up for United is Mohamed Salah and Liverpool, who they have usurped at the top
Solskjaer recently played Pogba and Matic together, but could try to add even more solidity
Scott McTominay – confident after captaining and netting in the third round of the FA Cup against Watford – and Fred could bring more energy to midfield, and it probably complements, rather than Pogba.
But that would most likely trace Solskjaer back to the diamond formation that had mixed success throughout 2020, especially when the pressure was on the Norwegian boss.
The system worked very well against RB Leipzig in the Champions League with a 5-0 thrashing, with United showing some signs of stability in the rear while looking like they could score with the most attacks.
But they were lackluster and uninspired in the home defeat to Arsenal a few days later, while a 1-1 draw at Everton last season was also another frustrating game, prompting the faithful to voice concerns about the diamond formation.
Against the German side, Matic occupied the base of midfield well, something that Fred was unable to do the same against the Gunners who had started to the right of the window against Julian Nagelsmann’s men.
Bruno Fernandes would start out as the most advanced midfielder when he returns to a diamond
Pogba would pass on the left but, like United, had mixed fortunes when he played there in 2020
Pogba himself was on the left side of the diamond and Bruno Fernandes, as he did against the Gunners, will start as the most advanced midfielder at Anfield after becoming the pivot of United’s turnaround this season with 15 goals and nine assists.
If Solskjaer returns to the diamond, the roles of Pogba and Fernandes will be less likely to change, but whoever guides them alongside and behind them will be the main concern given the performances the system has used over the past calendar year.
McTominay started on the diamond’s right side in both Premier League games, but was counterproductive in quelling Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s attacking threat, which is especially critical given the lack of a wide right wing in the formation.
Fred looked a little more comfortable in that role with Matic at the base, but the Brazilian was perhaps even more convincing last year as one of the Serbian’s two midfielders at Anfield.
He assisted against RB Leipzig but made a mistake on Hector Bellerin in a despicable performance against Arsenal
According to his boss, Fred could add solidity and put in a ‘top’ performance at Anfield last year
Solskjaer described Fred’s performance as ‘top notch’ in last January’s 2-0 defeat after starting centrally in a 3-4-1-2 formation.
What’s more, it is also questionable whether the former United striker would really be able to get the best out of Pogba in a diamond, and that could stop the momentum he has built up over the past few weeks.
He took an assist on the left side of a window against Leipzig, but was the player who fouled Hector Bellerin for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty in a more gruesome showing against Arsenal.
However, there are signs that the Premier League public could see the best version of Pogba for about 18 months in the coming weeks, after more recently counting with two other midfielders, especially since Raiola’s bombshell comments on December 8 last year.
A steady spell of fitness has helped his case and has seen him complete 90 minutes five times since the comments, and dominating performances like those United fans expected after his £ 89m move from Juventus in 2016 were evident against Aston. Villa and Burnley.
Ineffective on the right, Scott McTominay (left) has suppressed Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Such a dominance of the World Cup winner would see Solskjaer prefer attacking flair to defensive solidity if he believes the ruthlessness of Pogba and Fernandes will be too much for Liverpool, especially if Fabinho is forced to put himself back on the defensive. drop.
United have failed to win any of their matches against the so-called ‘Big Six’ this season, and apologizing for the exceptional circumstances of Anthony Martial’s red card against Tottenham Hotspur, they lacked drive and energy against the others and failed to score against Chelsea. Arsenal and Manchester City.
With arguably the toughest side they will face on Sunday this season, Solskjaer’s options ultimately boil down to whether returning to the diamond formation will do significantly more damage to their chances of winning than the 4-3-3 formation last year. time has worked wonders. weeks.
But Solskjaer will know that Pogba’s attacking flair could hurt Liverpool’s title ambitions
The safer option to counter Liverpool in the best possible way would be to put Matic at the base of the diamond, with Fred and Pogba left and right and Fernandes as the attacking midfielder.
That temptation may be hard to resist as it is United who now has the advantage of being at the top of the table, and a draw would keep that three-point lead and put a slight dent in Liverpool’s aspirations to keep their crown.
But if United’s stars are to mimic their ancestors’ accomplishments to fulfill Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous promise to knock Liverpool off their stick this time, the usual option on three midfielders could inflict a defeat that would defeat the United fan base of a first. title since 2013 and a first trophy in four years.