Paul Pogba was back in his favoured central midfield role against Villarreal in the Champions League on Wednesday but ex-United striker Owen feels it will again only be a temporary arrangement
Michael Owen has suggested Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows his best Manchester United team “for certain games” and is mirroring an old Sir Alex Ferguson tactic with his use of Paul Pogba.
The debate over whether Pogba can control the big games for United from central midfield continues to rage on with the Frenchman already occupying several positions so far this season.
After a show-stopping display on the opening weekend against Leeds, Solskjaer has opted to deploy Pogba in wider areas against better opposition, reverting to his favoured double pivot of Scott McTominay and Fred.
That has been the case in each of United’s last two Premier League fixtures – against West Ham and Aston Villa respectively – but Pogba was brought back into a central role for the clash with Villarreal on Wednesday, prompting Owen’s observation.
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“This has been a problem for many, many years trying to get the best out of players like Paul Pogba,” Owen told BT Sport.
“I actually think that Ole knows his best team in certain games and I think he’s got two different teams for different scenarios and he’s not the only manager to do that.
“Sir Alex Ferguson done the exact same, a tough European game all of a sudden Park Ji-Sung would play, Darren Fletcher, Wayne Rooney would be pushed out on the left so it depends who they play against.
“If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has less respect for the team he’s playing against I think Paul Pogba plays central with one sitting midfielder and he’s braver.
“As soon as they play someone really difficult, they play a McTominay, Fred or someone of alike, and he gets pushed out to the left so I think that is consistent you know when he’s respecting a team or not because that’s exactly what happens every time.”
The argument with using Pogba through the middle is he lacks the defensive discipline necessary to thwart counter attacks and provide a solid base for United’s attackers to do the business in the final third.
United have come unstuck at times with Pogba in that role previously, even though it was in that position alongside Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante that he thrived in France’s 2018 World Cup win.
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That level of form has been scarce from Pogba at Old Trafford though, and Owen Hargreaves agrees that Solskjaer’s preferred lineup offers more balance.
“I can understand why he plays Fred and McTominay because the team tends to get big results and good performances,” Hargreaves said.
“The win percentage is better [with them] they score more and concede less but if that means Fred plays it means Sancho doesn’t play, Greenwood doesn’t play, Martial doesn’t play, Rashford doesn’t play and Pogba doesn’t play in his natural position.
“You can understand that the fans want to see another attacker but Ole is trying to say I’ve got to balance the side, it’s a catch 22.
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“The goal is going forward Paul [Pogba] has the best control of a football game for Manchester United so play him central where he can control the tempo of the game.
“If Paul plays centrally, if the games getting away from them [then] him and Bruno can grab the game.”
Solskjaer clearly felt more at ease against Villarreal in the Champions League, despite the Spanish club beating them in May’s Europa League final.
Sancho, Greenwood and Fernandes all started ahead of the midfield pairing of Pogba and McTominay with Cristiano Ronaldo spearheading United’s attack in a very positive approach.
Yet while Owen feels Solskjaer has found his go-to selection, he is not convinced the United boss knows how to fit all his stars in one cohesive lineup.
“I think United added some players to their squad in Jadon, [Raphael] Varane and Cristiano so it’s going to take time to integrate those players with Pogba, Bruno Fernandes.
“The attack the potential is off the charts. Ole spoke about getting the balance right and that why Pogba has been on the right, tonight he plays in the centre so the potential is there for this side but it’ll be a work in progress this season.”