Paul Pogba: One Man, Two Different Players
This image is a derivative of Euro 2016: Francia-Irlanda link diretta video gratis ore 15 by Nazionale Calcio (CC BY 2.0)
The difference between Paul Pogba for France and Paul Pogba for Manchester United is like night and day.
When he returned to the Red Devils after 5 years in Italian exile, the expectation was for him to take the Premier League by storm, and return United to the force it once was.
Unfortunately for them, that’s not been the case, as Pogba’s hot and cold performances have played a role in neither player nor team taking off.
Since his return to Old Trafford in 2016, United have tried Pogba in a 2-man midfield- it didn’t work. They tried him in a 3-man midfield, didn’t work. They’ve now been forced to play him on the left side of an attacking front 3, with Fred and Scott McTominay beside him.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room; How is it that the French national team, who has far less time to build chemistry and intricate strategies, are able to get so much more out of Paul Pogba while he's still yet to take flight in the Premier League?
Formation and build-up Play
For France, Pogba plays on the right-hand side of a midfield-3, with Adrien Rabiot next to him, and N’Golo Kante sitting just behind.
This allows Pogba to have an impact both offensively and defensively, differing heavily from his role at club level where his position on the left requires him to attack, placing less emphasis on the defensive side of his game.
His role in the French side suits his assets to an absolute tee.
Pogba's languid nature has given him the ability to become one of the best in the world at the long-range pass, while being able to play such balls to the like of Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann presents something of a match made in heaven.
Whilst Pogba is a great passer of the ball, he is also a fantastic carrier of it too. Against Germany, he was able to bully the likes of Toni Kroos and be that incredible outlet for the French team. As well as this, and due to the presence that Pogba commands, there are more often than not two defenders deployed to press him, opening further avenues for the French to exploit elsewhere.
We touched on it earlier, but something Pogba enjoys with the national team, and which he's often deprived off at United, is freedom. While its well worth pointing out this freedom doesn’t just magically materialise once he pulls on a French shirt.
So much of Didier Deschamps’ philosophy as manager, made easier with Kante in the team, pertains to a passive, very direct, counterattacking approach to the game.
Whilst at first glance, you’d think this would restrict a player such as Pogba and prevent him from influencing matches, yet the Decshamps system allows him to be expressive with his passing and carrying- the two areas of his game he excels in.
The ‘Le'Route One’ system which has been coined recently ensures that France have plenty of numbers behind the ball at all times.
When possession is turned over and Pogba has it, he has free rein to take players on or find that killer pass due to the numbers he has covering him. As well as this, when France are in possession, Pogba’s luxury of having the best centre defensive midfielder in the world next to him is a massive plus.
Can he lead France to glory?
One person alone won’t carry France to glory. It didn’t when they won the 2018 World Cup, and it certainly didn’t when they won their most recent European Championship in 2000.
This team’s strength, and why it remains tournament favourites according to the Stats Insider futures model, lies in a pronounced team ethos, which is indeed backed by phenomenal talent and individual expression.
The cohesive nature of the national team, coupled with the solidity and confidence Deshamps provides enables Paul Pogba to shine, all the while Manchester United and its legion of fans around the world are left scratching their heads.
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