Paul Pogba’s inconsistency this season could be the result of poor management rather than the player himself, according to some of the country’s top football writers.
The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson, The Independent’s Mark Critchley and The Times’ Alyson Rudd all agree that the Frenchman’s error in committing the clumsy foul on Hector Bellerin that led to Arsenal’s 69th minute penalty yesterday could actually be attributed to the fact that he should not have been on the pitch at that stage.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been speaking a lot this season about the need to manage players’ fitness levels, yet it would seem he is not practising what he preaches when it comes to Pogba.
In the pre-match press conference, Solskjaer said of Pogba ‘Maybe I was unfair to him starting him that early in the first few games but he’s coming on and he’s done great when he’s come on.
‘He’s been out for a while with coronavirus this summer, so he’s getting better and better and maybe more in his shape.’
Yet he chose to play the Frenchman for 81 minutes and 90 minutes in two major games just four days apart.
‘Maybe I was a bit out of breath and it made me do this stupid mistake,’ Pogba said after the game.
‘I shouldn’t have given a penalty away like that. I’m not the best defensively in the box but I can learn and work on that.’
If the Frenchman is still suffering the after-effects of the corona virus and a lack of pre-season preparation, ‘why start him twice in the space of four days against Leipzig and Arsenal?,’ asks The Independent’s Mark Critchley.
‘Why keep him on the pitch for the full 90 minutes on Sunday when he looked fatigued and was becoming something of a liability?
‘Why, also, start him for three straight league games soon after his recovery, especially when his performances did not warrant it?’
‘Pogba’s performances at the beginning of this season have left much to be desired but Solskjaer’s management of his most important player also deserves scrutiny in that regard.’
Jonathan Wilson agrees. ‘Pogba, as ever, will draw the bulk of the criticism. To an extent that is reasonable; that’s two gratuitous penalties he has given away in United’s last three home matches and it remains unclear just where his best position is.
‘But the bigger problem with United is systemic. Only in the final 10 minutes did they generate any sustained pressure and, even then, it seemed Arsenal were complicit, dropping deeper and deeper as their fingers grasped at the prize of ending that six-year drought – not that it came to much more than a series of balls pumped into the box.’
Alyson Rudd’s report is eerily similar. ‘Pogba had no need to make the challenge on Héctor Bellerín, according to his manager, and yet again the conversation about the 27-year-old is one of naivety and mystery,’ she said in The Times.
‘Mikel Arteta gave up trying to solve his player-puzzle when he left Mesut Özil out of his Premier League squad altogether.
‘Perhaps it would be ridiculously dramatic to marginalise Pogba in this way, but to leave him on the pitch when he had contributed little and seemed increasingly unsure of his role was surely a mistake.’
Even following the penalty, with United now chasing the game and needing two goals, Solskjaer left Pogba on the pitch and instead withdrew the two men who were arguably most likely to score a goal, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood.
It is sometimes hard to understand what goes on in Solskjaer’s mind at times like this but without absolving Pogba of any responsibility for his poor performances, journalists seem to agree – he should not have been there in the first place as things stood, and the responsibility for that lays squarely on Solskjaer’s shoulders.
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