The Many Passes Of Manchester United’s Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba has brought something different to Manchester United. This was expected, and because of that expectancy, he has been underappreciated. The 24-year-old has filled a void in the club’s midfield that had been glaringly obvious for several years previously, yet many remain blinded by the enormous transfer fee paid to sign him.Such intense hype was only ever going to lead to misunderstanding. Many, including Jose Mourinho, seemed at first to assume Pogba to be an all-in-one player, a multifaceted operator capable of improving Manchester United’s midfield in every conceivable way. The assumption couldn’t have been more wrong. Pogba is, categorically, a specialist, albeit an extraordinary talented one. And even though Mourinho’s desire for functionality has often inhibited the team’s attacking play, Pogba’s specialism has consistently come to the fore.
So important was Paul Scholes to Manchester United, he had to retire twice. Okay, so injuries played a part in his un-retiring in January 2012, but in his absence grew a serious creative shortfall in the team’s midfield, the likes of which Anderson, Maroane Fellaini and Bastian Schweinsteiger simply could not address. But Pogba, railing against the occasional loneliness of his role as chief playmaker within a team increasingly accustomed to 6-2-2 formations and defence-first tactics, has begun to fill the gap.
Pogba is similar to Scholes in a few ways. Like Scholes, he has often been played out of position. And, just as some mistook Scholes’ aggression for defensive willing, Pogba’s tactical intelligence has been mistaken for defensive ability. The most prominent similarity, however, is in the pass. Scholes had an unerring knack for finding his team-mates; Pogba has the very same capacity.
An exciting concoction of bodacious spirit, imagination, vision and technique, the Frenchman has brought a level of creativity, accuracy and variety to Manchester United’s passing that has not been seen since Scholes’ second, conclusive retirement. One of his favourite passes is the flicked through ball, a daintily lofted pass over the top of a defence often performed when close to the opposition’s penalty box. Another is the reverse pass, where he plays the ball in the opposite direction to his run. This one is usually opted for when travelling inward from left to right, picking out the run of a team-mate moving from right to left.
The many passes of Pogba don’t stop there, though. He has also shown a proclivity for the penetrative diagonal, a long ball played incisively and diagonally through pressure. And, just as Scholes loved to do, Pogba has mastered the searching switch of play, opening up the game with passes to the opposite flank. If all of the above fail, a simple but effective direct ball over the top, played from deep, usually into the path of an attacking team-mate attempting to break the opposition’s offside trap, tends to do the trick.
No other Manchester United player has completed more passes or created more chances per game than Pogba this season. No other Manchester United player has played more through balls, and no outfielder has played more long balls. Simply put, Pogba has been the team’s most influential, and inventive, player this term, and as his creative specialism gains greater recognition and his role becomes clearer, his productivity will only improve.
Manchester United may have thought they were getting an all-round midfield machine last summer, but the reality is much more enticing. After years of trying and failing, they may finally have replaced Scholes.