Paul Pogba is in a rut.
There’s absolutely no denying that when he’s in his groove he’s one of the finest midfielders on the planet.
The issue is the label ‘world class’ relies on consistency – something Pogba has distinctly lacked this season.
The French midfielder started the campaign like a house on fire, bossing the Manchester United midfield with three goals and three assists in his opening six games.
But injury in September derailed both his and the Red Devils’ season.
Prior to his absence, Pogba looked comfortable in a midfield two alongside the destructive Nemanja Matic – albeit during an easy run of fixtures.
Since his return the 24-year-old’s weaknesses have been exposed, showing defensive and positional naivety against Newcastle last weekend that led to the Magpies goal.
At Tottenham a few weeks ago Mousa Dembele dominated him too, provoking Jose Mourinho to substitute him to avoid further damage.
Pogba’s lack of discipline and Matic’s weary legs after half a season of carrying the United midfield’s defensive burden combined for that abject defeat at Spurs.
But against Newcastle – who no offence to Magpies fans ARE a ‘lesser’ team – Pogba should thrive if he wants to even begin to justify that ‘world class’ tag.
Instead he was anonymous and lost his man for Matt Ritchie’s goal.
Those two defeats have provoked an inquiry into Pogba’s best position, perhaps as a number 10 in front of two defensive midfielders to allow him to push forward more.
Mourinho, however, feels his man should be able to perform regardless of formation despite describing him as ‘the most complete midfielder in the world’.
So my question is simple… can a central midfielder be labelled ‘world class’ if they rely on two other midfielders to mask their weaknesses?
All the best midfielders in the world past and present – from Paul Scholes to Toni Kroos – have shown tactical versatility to shine in different formations.
But Pogba looks lost in a two, unsure when to go forward and naive when he has to go back.
For France it’s a similar dilemma.
Pogba usually starts in a two alongside N’Golo Kante, but again even the indefatigable Chelsea star can’t protect his back four by himself.
He’s not a number 10 from the Mesut Ozil school of thought but requires two destructive players behind to free him of defensive responsibilities.
For a central midfielder that’s a worry.
I have no doubt Pogba, who is still just 24, can iron out these issues and fulfil his potential for club and country.
He has all the assets after all.
But after 18 months at United he has become more of a liability than a match winner who Mourinho can’t fully trust anymore.
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