Why Pogba is a threat to Rooney

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LONDON — Jose Mour­inho was happy and re­laxed on Sun­day af­ter­noon, rev­el­ling in a com­fort­able open­ing day win for his new Manch­ester United side. He said the sec­ond half was “al­most the com­plete per­for­mance” and then, kin­dling the flame of Au­gust op­ti­mism, rolled off a list of those who had not even started. “When you look at the play­ers who were not on the pitch,” he said, “(Jesse) Lin­gard, (Mar­cus) Rash­ford, (Hen­rik) Mkhi­taryan and Ash­ley Young, we have a lot.” Mour­inho did not even need to men­tion Paul Pogba, the £89m man who was sus­pended as well as un­ready for this trip to the south coast. But, as in the Com­mu­nity Shield, it was im­pos­si­ble to watch United with­out think­ing about where he will fit in. Mour­inho hopes to get Pogba ready for the home game against Southamp­ton this Fri­day evening, but in this team there is no per­fect slot. As at Wem­b­ley the pre­vi­ous Sun­day, Mour­inho lined his side up in his pre­ferred con­ven­tional 4-2-3-1. The con­trol­ling base of the mid­field was An­der Her­rera and Marouane Fel­laini, who re­stricted an en­thu­si­as­tic Bournemouth in the first half and then shut them out of the game in the sec­ond half. Her­rera played ex­cel­lently, mak­ing the in­ci­sive pass through to Juan Mata which set up United’s opener just be­fore half-time. When United con­trolled the game in the sec­ond half, Her­rera was at the heart of all of their best pass­ing. Poga is like­lier to play in­stead of Fel­laini, who worked hard on Sun­day and played as well as any­one could have hoped. He im­posed his big build on the game and fol­lowed the man­ager’s or­ders, which has al­ways been im­mensely im­por­tant to Mour­inho. But Pogba matches Fel­laini for size and strength while rout­ing him for in­tel­li­gence, skill and flair. If Mour­inho wanted to re­place Fel­laini for Pogba, then David Moyes’ favourite Bel­gian could have few com­plaints. But to put Pogba in that role, block­ing and shep­herd­ing op­po­nents, start­ing at­tacks but not fin­ish­ing them, would feel like a waste of his tal­ent, as well as the money Ed Wood­ward spent to buy him. This is not just a the­o­ret­i­cal point ei­ther. Pogba played in ex­actly that role for most of France’s cam­paign at Euro 2016, af­ter Di­dier Deschamps de­cided that the best bal­ance was a 4-4-1-1 de­signed to get the most out of An­toine Griez­mann. So Pogba had to sit along­side Blaise Ma­tu­idi in the mid­dle of the pitch, and had lit­tle im­pact on France’s knock-out games. Moussa Sis­soko, no-one’s idea of a world-record break­ing player, had more pos­i­tive im­pact on the final than Pogba did. That is why Mour­inho might think that the way to get the best out of Pogba would be to re-jig his team. Pogba needs the free­dom to run for­ward, shoot from dis­tance and ar­rive in the box. To have him sit­ting in front of the de­fence would be to waste his legs. That is why Mour­inho might want to build a bet­ter plat­form for him, with security be­hind. That could be a three-man mid­field, with one man sit­ting and two push­ing on. This is what Mour­inho calls “an open tri­an­gle” and is how Pogba played his best foot­ball at Ju­ven­tus. At the start of Euro 2016 that is how Deschamps set up France, with Pogba on the front right tip of the three, but he played for Ju­ven­tus on the left and it was never quite the same. If Mour­inho wanted to put Pogba in the role he is most com­fort­able with, that is what he would do. But that type of 4-3-3 can­not have a num­ber nine and a num­ber 10, but just one lone striker. And this is where the Pogba ques­tion be­comes even big­ger. On Sun­day Mour­inho played Wayne Rooney be­hind Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, as he did in the Com­mu­nity Shield. Both play­ers scored, but it did not look like a part­ner­ship that will be sus­tained through­out the sea­son. Both play­ers wanted to do the same thing, com­ing short for the ball, be­cause nei­ther is quick enough to run in be­hind. But on Sun­day it was the man mak­ing his Premier League de­but, not the 15-year vet­eran, who did it bet­ter. Ibrahi­movic’s touch is sharper than Rooney’s, and he kept the ball bet­ter, and was clev­erer with it on the edge of the box. He scored one ex­cel­lent goal and should have had an as­sist too. He flicked one ball through to Rooney, who could not fin­ish. Of course it is pos­si­ble to play with two strik­ers, as Le­ices­ter City and Atletico Madrid did last sea­son, but they need to be mo­bile and fast to make up for the lack of num­bers else­where, and Rooney and Ibrahi­movic are not. But if Mour­inho wants to get the best out of Pogba then he will surely have to switch to a lone-striker sys­tem, ei­ther the 4-3-3 or even a 4-2-3-1 with Pogba as a num­ber 10. That might be fur­ther for­ward than Pogba is used to, but it would make the most of his runs into the box and his de­fen­sive en­ergy. If Pogba is to play his best as­sertive foot­ball, then it would only be in a team with one cen­tre-for­ward, which means choos­ing be­tween Rooney and Ibrahi­movic. Mour­inho can play all three, but it would put tac­ti­cal shack­les on United’s most im­por­tant sign­ing of the mod­ern era. Rooney is the cap­tain and is aim­ing for the goalscor­ing record, but he is the man who needs to im­prove to sur­vive.

PAUL Pogba was sus­pended on Sun­day but when United play Southamp­ton to­mor­row night he will be ready.

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