Can Paul Pogba become a key player in Manchester United’s midfield alongside Bruno Fernandes?
That was the question Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher debated passionately on Monday Night Football, after the France midfielder was left out of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s starting XI against Chelsea on Saturday.
Neville had explained earlier in the show how Solskjaer had gone “back to basics” with Scott McTominay and Fred anchoring the midfield, with Bruno Fernandes ahead of them, and how that boosted United’s defensive cover while also freeing up the Portuguese playmaker.
But Neville also believes Solskjaer will come under pressure to reinstate United’s record-signing Pogba to the team – and that Pogba can be successful in a midfield unit with Fernandes.
However, Carragher disagreed – and suggested Pogba was “a great talent” but his lack of positional discipline prevented him from being a great player.
Here’s what each pundit said…
Gary Neville: At some point, Pogba will have to come into the team. I do think he’s a brilliant player for Manchester United. He can be a fantastic player, I do think he can impact games, he’s got the courage and skill and experience and winning mentality to play in these games.
Jamie Carragher: You’ve said to me when we’ve debated this, about David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, not ever expecting them to be able to do what they did [in terms of improving their tactical discipline]. What you’re taking about in terms of Pogba to the left and Fernandes to the right, you’ve still got to have discipline in those roles. Silva and De Bruyne had that. When Nemanja Matic gets the ball, let’s say it’s Fernandinho, he doesn’t have to look up and he knows De Bruyne would be there, Silva would be there. Those players had great discipline within that shape. The players you’re talking about don’t have that. If Matic or Fred is in that position, Fernandes could be on the wing, Pogba could be at centre forward.
The first time I analysed Paul Pogba, four years ago, it was in a Manchester derby and he was playing central midfield, and he was standing on the left wing for goal kicks, and I said on that show I can’t understand how a world-class talent doesn’t understand where he needs to be for a goal kick.
You’ve just said Pogba’s a great player, I’d say he’s a great talent. Unbelievable talent, there’s nothing he can’t do in some ways, but a great talent doesn’t always make a great player.
You’ve just said Pogba’s a great player, I’d say he’s a great talent. Unbelievable talent, there’s nothing he can’t do in some ways, but a great talent doesn’t always make a great player. I don’t think his understanding of the game is amazing and I think that’s what defines a great player and I think that’s what makes him a great talent rather than a great player.
Neville: He’s played wide-left in a four for Juventus, he played on the left and did that regularly and did it very well. I find it really difficult to understand how a player who’s played at Juventus in a brilliant team and won many titles, goes on to play in a brilliant French team in a World Cup and wins a World Cup, and he’s a star in that team, can’t be regarded as a great player?
I don’t think Manchester United have been a great team in the last few years, I don’t think Paul Pogba’s played brilliantly for Manchester United. But the idea he can’t be a great player because he lacks a bit of discipline…
If you’d have said to me De Bruyne would turn into what he has under Pep Guardiola, I’d have said there was no chance. There’s no way he can be as good defensively as he is in an attacking sense, which is what he’s done. He was a massive luxury player in the sense he was a brilliant player, but on the ball not off the ball. He was coached and moved into a position he made his own.
I don’t give up hope Matic, Pogba, Fernandes can’t play together in that three, there’s going to come a point whereby the burden of having Paul Pogba on your shoulder is going to shine brightly on Ole. He’s going to have to get him into the team alongside Fernandes, like he did post-lockdown where they did well together, had some good results.
I don’t share your pessimism about him.
I think it can happen again. I don’t share your pessimism about him.
Carragher: How, after four years at Manchester United, are you still talking about finding Pogba’s best position and can Ole get more out of him, can he add discipline to his game? He’s been there for four years!
If he’s as good as you think or that Ole can get more out of him, why are we still having these conversations now, almost hoping or believing he can be something he hasn’t shown for four years? I don’t understand.
Neville: This debate about whether they can play together or if they can play in the team together… If you’d have said to me 10 years ago, I’d have said ‘no, forget about it’. But the way teams develop now with players, Manchester City won the league with Aguero, Sterling, Sane, De Bruyne, Silva and Fernandinho as a front six.
Carragher: They’ve got discipline! They won leagues before Pep Guardiola got there.
Neville: Pogba’s had seven or eight months with Fernandes, three of those have been in lockdown. Two have been pre-season, he had Covid about four weeks ago, I don’t think they’ve been in a position to play together that much.
I don’t think we should be writing it off today. At Christmas time, if they can’t play together, if the results don’t improve with them both in the team, fair enough. But it’s too early.
Carragher: If United were playing in a big game against City or Liverpool, would you play those two in midfield?
Neville: I wouldn’t have a problem playing them both in midfield.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has “gone back to basics” and returned to his trusted midfield set-up to solve the team’s defensive problems and help Bruno Fernandes, Gary Neville told Monday Night Football.
United went into the international break earlier this month on the back of a 6-1 thrashing at home to Tottenham, having already lost 3-1 at Old Trafford to Crystal Palace and scraped past Brighton 3-2 with a late, late penalty.
But since the Premier League has resumed, United have beaten Newcastle 4-1 and drawn 0-0 with Chelsea, as well as picking up an impressive 2-1 Champions League win at Paris Saint-Germain.
Sky Sports pundit Neville explained Solskjaer’s return to playing two holding midfield players behind Fernandes – opposed to trying to play Paul Pogba along with just one defensive midfielder and Fernandes – is key to the turnaround.