This is becoming a regular occurrence.
Graeme Souness has never been keen on overly flashy players. Back in his heyday, Souness was a no nonsense central midfielder, so maybe it is Paul Pogba’s more elegant style that provokes such harsh criticism on such a regular basis.
In fairness, it is not only Souness who has criticised Pogba in recent weeks. Manchester United’s defeat to Spurs in particular brought a lot of criticism on Pogba and his midfield partner Nemanja Matić, who seemed completely unable to deal with the intensity of Tottenham’s midfield.
Pogba is undoubtedly supremely talented, but there are valid criticisms to be made. Writing in the Sunday Times, Souness spoke about Pogba’s supposed lack of positional discipline, claiming “he still doesn’t understand what is required to play that position properly.”
“Pogba simply cannot be one of two in central midfield. You cannot rely on him. Against the lesser teams you’ll get away with it, but against the better teams you’re not going to”, Souness added.
Some people use this notion that Pogba cannot play to the best of his abilities in a midfield duo and must be part of a trio as a caveat to excuse some underwhelming performances, whereas others see it as an indication of Pogba’s shortcomings. Souness highlighted Pogba’s tendency to drift wide in search of the ball as one of his main weaknesses:
“When he’s asked to do a job centrally, he’s forever straying towards the touchline trying to get on the ball. A central midfielder should never be in areas wider than the penalty box, unless they are out there to confront danger defensively. When your side are in possession you should always be thinking: “If it breaks down, I’m out of the game.”
Souness did praise aspects of Pogba’s game, saying: “There’s lots I like about Pogba. He’s powerful and athletic with good technique, but I’ve not seen a different, improved Pogba since he walked back into Old Trafford in August 2016.”
This once again raises the question of how to get the best out of Paul Pogba. There is no doubt José Mourinho wants Pogba to stay closer to Matić and not to drift wherever he wants to, but it is clearly Pogba’s natural instinct to roam the pitch looking for the ball, particularly in the left inside channel.
At Juventus, he was deployed on the left of a midfield three or in a diamond formation, which allowed him to push forward in the zones where he can be most effective.
Pogba has the body of a central midfielder but the mind of a number ten. Mourinho may need to reintroduce Ander Herrera to the side in order to redress the balance of the side, even if it means sacrificing an attacking player.