Prolific Pogba Requires The Right System To Succeed


It has been an interesting World Cup, and season for that matter, for Paul Pogba.  At times, he has dominated all aspects of the game for France and Manchester United.  Crisp passing, controlling possession and linking up play towards attack are why Pogba succeeds.

He was brilliant in France’s second half and was heavily involved with the team’s pair of goals for a 2-1 win.

He was also excellent in the first 45 minutes against Peru where he created France’s lone goal and controlled the second half where he was forced to take up more of a defensive responsibility to seal the win.

Pogba celebrates after adding a second goal for France against Australia in the 2018 World Cup.
Pogba celebrates after adding a second goal for France against Australia in the 2018 World Cup. /

The same goes for Manchester United.  He flourished in the beginning of the season scoring twice and assisting twice in the team’s opening 5 matches before a hamstring injury kept him out for a 2 month span.

He was easily United’s most important player in the squad at the time.  Dictating play, pushing the ball towards attack and influencing the game with his presence.

He returned from injury in stride by adding another goal and 7 assists leading up to New Years Day with, arguably, his best performance in the first half of the season coming in a 3-1 win over Arsenal.

The same game that saw him be sent off for reckless foul on Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.

After New Years, Pogba performance slowed down tremendously.  Assisting only twice and scoring once in his next 11 games for club and country.  The lone goal came in a friendly for France against Russia.

Critic’s say Pogba’s disappearance can boil down to work ethic or laziness on the field.  Or that he doesn’t listen to his manager and is not tactically astute.

Ultimately, it comes from the system that Pogba plays in.  A formation that allows Pogba to roam free and attack is one that he flourishes under.

Mourinho used a variety of a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in the first half of United’s season.  Nemanja Matic took up the deep lying defensive midfielder role which allowed Pogba the freedom to roam forward.

But as the season wore on and as injuries piled up in the midfield, Matic tired and the pressure mounted on United’s midfield causing Pogba to have to revert to more defensive responsibilities.  At times, Mourinho was forced to shift to a 4-5-1 and Pogba was required to sit deeper on the pitch.

The difference can be seen for France in this World Cup as well in the formation utilized with Pogba in the lineup.

Pogba is far more influential in a midfield paring in a 4-4-2 formation that France played against Peru.  He sees more of the ball with only two midfielders in the side and it allows N’Golo Kante to take up more of the defensive responsibilities.

Pogba’s best comes from when he pushes the ball from midfield to attack with pace.
Pogba’s best comes from when he pushes the ball from midfield to attack with pace. /

However, Pogba is not a one-dimensional midfielder.  One of Pogba’s greatest strengths is his ability to win the ball in the defensive third and drive the attack forward using his pace, power and passing technique.

Simplicity is never something Pogba envisions when he steps onto the pitch. It’s in how he dresses, how he acts and and how he plays football.  He puts on a show.

It’s his craving for the spectacular that gets Pogba into trouble though and why he sometimes disappears from games.

It’s the moment that Pogba switches off defensively is when it affects his game going forward.  He loses his man or a defensive assignment or tries too much to win the ball and not let his teammates chip in.  Sometimes it feels that the weight of the world is on Paul’s shoulders and it shows.

He makes mistakes and turns the ball over with flicks and tricks when a simple ball is all that’s required.

Former France International Robert Pires summed up Pogba’s performance after the Peru game.

“I think we saw a very mature Paul Pogba against Peru in the way he managed the game,” he said. “He played simple football and was effective. He was the one dictating the pace in the first half. When France dropped a bit deeper in the second half, he was working hard defensively.

Pogba is best when he is able to express himself.  In a system that suits him well, whether it be a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, he requires the midfield support to get him on the ball.  Because when Pogba is on the ball, he is one of the best in the world.

On the field, Pogba is developing into a leader and poised central midfielder.  His passion for his club and country is apparent when he scores and wins.  His care free attitude off the field has been called into question but the notion of success following from being true to one’s character seems to fit Pogba quite well

“I am just me. I am not playing a role. I have always liked laughing and dancing,” he said on Sunday. “The most important is to play football, to have fun and enjoy myself. It is a child’s dream to be here. I want to enjoy as much as possible.”

Next: Marouane Fellaini stars for Belgium

At 25, Pogba is still just a kid who wants to play football.  He just so happens to do it quite well.

Pogba’s best comes from a tactical system designed to get the best out of him.  The rest is up to him.