After a tiring January transfer window, Manchester United supporters cannot wait until Ralf Rangnick’s team are back in action against Middlesbrough on Friday.
The two-week winter break has given fans and the team some time to reflect on the last few months at Old Trafford, which has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
On the plus side, the time away has allowed some injured players to get back to fitness, with Paul Pogba returning for United.
Since November, the 28-year-old has been sidelined after picking up an ankle injury on international duty, and no one knew whether he was ever going to return to first-team action, seeing as he could’ve departed in January.
Pogba has less than six months remaining on his current United contract and is free to talk to whoever he wants, so it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll eventually leave at the end of the season.
Despite agitating for the exit door, Rangnick has confirmed he will play Pogba as he can be critical for United until the end of the season;
In the pre-match press conference for the Middlesbrough match, he said: “Paul [Pogba] will be part of the group [against Middlesbrough]. He might even be in the starting XI.”
It’s a pretty strange scenario that not many United supporters are jumping from the edge of their seats at Pogba returning. After all, why would they be? He’s been inconsistent since he signed for the club, and while no one can doubt his world-class ability, we have n’t seen enough of it at Old Trafford.
What will be interesting to see is whether Pogba will fit into Rangnick’s new 4-3-3 system, and based on stats compared to United’s other midfielders, he could be the perfect midfielder for the German.
As per FBRef.com, Pogba has averaged the second-highest amount of pressures per 90 compared to United’s other midfielders (19.6 compared to Fred’s 25.1) and has also averaged the second greatest amount of successful pressures per 90 (29.2 per cent compared to Nemanja Matic’s 30.2 per cent).
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Pogba also excels in the number of progressive passes too. He’s averaged eight per 90 this season, which is considerably higher compared to the rest of United’s midfielders. This shows that he likes to move the ball forward instead of sideways, which is crucial to Rangnick’s philosophy of him.
When he does return, he may need to adjust to Rangnick’s 4-3-3 system, and it remains to be seen which position he’ll play. If we assume he’ll play as the number eight midfielder, it could lead to a change in approach from United’s interim manager.
As we can see from his heat map this season, Pogba has operated in a more advanced role compared to any other number eight midfielder, which means he likes going forward and joining in on offensive opportunities.
Should Rangnick play Pogba frequently, that could lead to a change of personnel in midfield. He could opt to start Nemanja Matic more regularly in a double pivot to offer defensive support and then substitute him off in the second half for a more energetic approach from either Fred or Scott McTominay.
Alternatively, Rangnick may look to deploy either McTominay or Fred in a deeper role when Pogba plays, which has its risks. McTominay is arguably more suited to the defensive role than Fred, but whichever he chooses, he’ll know that’s not his best position.
It’s undoubtedly going to be intriguing to see how Rangnick accommodates Pogba because, if we’re basing it off stats, he could be his perfect midfielder.
If he does play, be prepared to see a change in approach to how the midfield operates.
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