IT’S JUST UNDER a year since one of Paul Pogba’s worst moments in a Man United jersey.
Against the same opponents and at the same venue as their game this afternoon, Pogba was part of a Red Devils side that were comprehensively beaten 2-0 by Spurs.
That day, Jose Mourinho’s side were blown away by the North Londoners.
The midfield of Pogba and Nemanja Matic were outclassed by their Tottenham counterparts.
The France international was so poor that he was hauled off and replaced by Marouane Fellaini after 63 minutes.
Today, however, was a completely different story.
A resilient Man United earned a 1-0 victory over Spurs, and Pogba produced the match-winning pass to set up Marcus Rashford’s clinically taken goal from an incredibly tight angle.
The hosts were a little unlucky — a combination of David de Gea’s superb saves and inept finishing from the Tottenham attackers played a big part in the triumph.
But aside from the Spanish goalkeeper, arguably no one else caused Spurs more problems than the France international. Aside from the sublime pass from Rashford, his powerful, surging runs through midfield frequently unsettled the hosts.
He may not have got the goal he threatened, but in general, Pogba has looked thoroughly rejuvenated under Solskjaer.
8 – No player has been involved in more Premier League goals since Ole Gunnar Solskjær became caretaker manager at Manchester United than Paul Pogba (eight – four goals, four assists). Dangerous. #TOTMUN pic.twitter.com/yis6RJMtJj— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe)
Having been left out of the team in the last days of Mourinho, the Paris native has produced a phenomenal return of four goals and four assists since the new man took charge.
So what has changed?
One key factor is Pogba’s relationship with Solskjaer, and the feel-good factor that was patently absent previously. The pair worked together during the Norwegian’s two-and-a-half-year spell as United’s reserve-team manager between 2008 and 2010.
He is not, however, the only manager that Pogba has thrived under recently.
The 25-year-old was a revelation in the World Cup last summer, excelling while working with Didier Deschamps as the French side won the competition for the first time since 1998.
Pogba also frequently impressed at previous club Juventus, regularly topping assist charts in Serie A, while helping his side win titles and get to the Champions League final on one occasion.
There is a caveat, however.
Paul Pogba will never be the type of midfield player who controls games — he is not a Xabi Alonso, Roy Keane or Luka Modric. His positional sense is imperfect and defensive responsibilities, when they are expected of him, are too often neglected.
What Pogba is better than most at is getting on the end of things and producing decisive moments in the final third.
In his post-match interview with Sky today, Pogba spoke of how Solskjaer encouraged him to “get in the box” and “get goals”.
He also cited Frank Lampard, and that is exactly the type of player Pogba is capable of emulating. He undoubtedly has the talent to score double figures every season, as the Chelsea legend invariably did.
Nevertheless, Pogba, at Juventus, had Andrea Pirlo playing centrally, while he was afforded a more free role out wide with less responsibility.
Though not always, too often under Mourinho, the France star was played as part of a two-man midfield with Nemanja Matic, which restricted his attacking capabilities.
Today under Solsjaer, he played on the left of a midfield three in a manner akin to his Juve days.
It was not a perfect performance, United were increasingly second-best in midfield as the match wore on and Pogba was eventually withdrawn for a more defensive-minded player in Scott McTominay.
The sloppiness and frustration at his side’s loss of control was evident even before then. Whether it was intentional or not is debatable, but his second-half high-footed challenge on Dele Alli was so dangerous and reckless that it should have resulted in a red card regardless.
On that occasion as in the match in general, Man United got the rub of the green, but there is nothing fortuitous about Pogba’s scintillating form under the guidance of a manager who is intimately aware of his star player’s strengths and weaknesses.
For Man United to reach the level of Man City or Liverpool, they could probably still do with a Pirlo-esque midfielder to complement Pogba, but with five Premier League wins in a row, it is clear both player and club are moving in the right direction.
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