Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

Man Utd

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Man United are being rewarded for finally giving Pogba what he always needed

4 min read

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but as Manchester United get ready for the pressure and the privilege of being in a title race at the start of a fresh year they are benefitting from the Paul Pogba they’ve been waiting for.

When United spent £89million to bring Pogba ‘home’ in the summer of 2016 it was expected that he would be the final piece of the jigsaw to end what was then a three-year wait for a Premier League title.

Jose Mourinho was in charge, lessons had been learned from the transition from the Sir Alex Ferguson era and United were ready to rule again.

Instead, three years has become seven and Pogba has become the pantomime villain for many. The player who sums up everything that is wrong with the modern-day United. At least that’s the theory.

That reached a nadir at the start of December, with Mino Raiola’s comments on the eve of the trip to RB Leipzig, but somehow those comments and the resultant fall out have inspired the World Cup winner to his best run of form in two years.

In the space of a month United fans have gone from wanting to throttle him to dreaming of the greatest parting gift imaginable.

Since the disaster in Leipzig Pogba has been United’s best player. There’s always been the idea that he is a footballer who graces the finest teams, the cherry on the icing on the cake, rather than the leader who can drag others up with him. That’s often made him a bad fit for a United side that have lurched from one poor transfer window to another and never had time to stick with a long-term plan.

But under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that is beginning to change. Bruno Fernandes has performed the role of inspirational totem and now United have risen to a standard where they can compete with Manchester City and Liverpool, Pogba is adding the final flourish.

He was the outstanding player on the pitch at Turf Moor as United moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Burnley. If the first half was scrappy the second half was a sign of how far United have come.

This felt like the type of game they would have folded in a year ago. This time they did the dirty work when required, sucked up a spell of pressure from the Clarets and then made sure the game was played on their terms or, more accurately, Pogba’s terms after half-time.

Playing as a holding midfielder this week, he was destructive when he needed to be and carried the ball forward superbly, jinking through tackles and covering ground in the way he does when he’s at his very best.

Select your United man of the match vs Burnley

When Burnley went long Pogba looked to win the first header, shielding his back four against Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood. In the final third he was United’s most dangerous player and it was fitting he was the match-winner, crashing a volley from 18 yards beyond Nick Pope, with the aid of a deflection off Matt Lowton.

Raiola has made it pretty clear that Pogba wants out of United and the silence from the player hardly contradicts that view. This summer will surely bring a parting of the ways after a five-year reunion that has only rarely worked out as both parties imagined.

But as Pogba prepares to pack his bags it should encourage United that he is back to his best, because if the 27-year-old is excelling it usually means the team is doing just that.

And what a parting gift it would be if Pogba could inspire United to a 21st league title. He’s certainly in inspirational form for United at the moment and Solskjaer’s desire to get him involved is clear.

While Pogba played as a holding midfielder against Sean Dyche’s side, he’s been fielded on the left of a midfield diamond and the left of a 4-2-3-1 in recent weeks. The equation for Solskjaer is simple: just make sure Pogba is on the pitch.

You could still say the former Juventus midfielder hasn’t made the difference often enough in the biggest games since his return to the club. Now is his opportunity to change that narrative.

His form over the last month has been exemplary, but if he can dominate proceedings at Anfield in the same way he turned on the style in the second half at Turf Moor, then United could turn dreams into reality by May. On this form you wouldn’t put it past Pogba doing just that.

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