Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have unlocked the key to getting the best from Paul Pogba – by using him as an impact substitute.
United were not in good form at the start of the season, losing two of the first three Premier League matches in which Pogba started.
The Frenchman was then not in the starting line-up for the trip to Newcastle. With United struggling to dominate at 1-1 after 69 minutes, Pogba was brought on along with Donny van de Beek and the pair transformed the game, with United running out 4-1 winners.
In Tuesday night’s Champions League game against PSG, again Pogba was not selected to start the game but came on as a 67th minute substitute. In the 23 minutes he was on the pitch he created three chances – the joint most of anyone – and United’s possession increased from 36% to 53%.
It may be tempting for Solskjaer to continue to use Pogba in this way, given the success the strategy has achieved in the past two games.
Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world but is not always most comfortable defending and ‘getting stuck in’. It therefore may suit him well for the likes of Fred and Scott McTominay to soak up a lot of the early physical encounters, allowing him to express himself more freely when he joins the fray.
With the arrival of Donny van de Beek, the manager also has another alternative to Pogba.
Another reason that coming off the bench may have suited the 27-year-old is that he is more likely to be given a more advanced role in that scenario than when he starts the game. In Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Pogba has been starting in the defensive midfield pair which is not where he is at his most effective.
Being an impact sub may also suit Pogba’s personality. He may see himself as the headline star coming on stage after the support act has completed the warm-up. There is generally less pressure and less to lose as a sub than as a starter – which Solskjaer may well understand himself, having been one of the best impact substitutes, if not the very best, in United’s history.
It will be interesting to observe whether Pogba will continue in the role today against Chelsea and whether it will, in the long run, prove to be a psychological and tactical masterstroke by the manager.
This summer’s transfer window has been one of the strangest in living memory. So cast your mind back to less stressful days and test your knowledge of past United arrivals and departures in our quiz below.