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15th Feb 2018

Jose Mourinho would probably agree with Roy Keane’s criticism of Paul Pogba

Does he have a point?

Robert Redmond

Roy Keane doesn’t accept the dominant narrative about Paul Pogba.

Pogba has struggled in recent games for Manchester United. The French midfielder looked completely lost in the 2-0 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago. Jose Mourinho started him alongside Nemanja Matic, and Pogba was rarely in the right position when United were out of possession.

The 24-year-old lacked the tactical discipline to ignore his natural instincts to wander forward, and the hole in United’s midfield became so great that Mourinho and Pogba had a touchline argument about his poor positioning and apparent unwillingness to work hard. The team’s most famous player was substituted soon after that, and dropped for the next game, a 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford.

Mourinho used Pogba again in a two-man central midfield away to Newcastle United last Sunday. However, once again, it didn’t work out and the French midfielder was substituted soon after Matt Ritchie scored what proved to be the winning goal. Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame got the better of Pogba and Matic on the day, and many United fans are now calling for the team to switch to a three-man central midfield.

Pogba played his best football on the left-side of three-man midfield while at Juventus, alongside Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, and he excelled in that position for United against Everton on New Year’s Day. Yet, Mourinho appears reluctant to use him in this position or to change from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

The United manager has only started with a 4-3-3 formation on five occasions this season, and just twice in the Premier League. While the formation favours Pogba, Mourinho doesn’t seem to think it is the best option for his team.

However, Keane reckons the formation is beside the point, and Pogba should be able to play well in a two-man midfield or in a three-man midfield.

“Any top player should be able to play in a two or a three,” the former United captain said on ITV’s Champions League highlights show on Wednesday night.

“So, the guy just needs to do better himself and focus on what the game of football is all about.”

For the majority of Keane’s career, 4-4-2 was the most commonly used formation, particularly in England. So, the concept of a central midfielder needing two other players beside him to cover his flaws is possibly alien to the Irishman.

Keane’s criticism can be blunt, but Mourinho would probably agree with him, in private at least. He expects players to follow his instructions and problem solve on their own during matches. The United manager expects his players to work hard when the team are out of possession, to be disciplined, keep their shape and not constantly vacate space in the middle of the pitch.

It may not be the best use of Pogba’s talents to ask him to be so disciplined, but he’s clearly not following his manager’s instructions.

You can watch Keane speak about his old team here: