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Paul Pogba: Manchester United midfielder puts the team first in his resurgence

Marcus Rashford played the final pass and Mason Greenwood applied the finish but it was Paul Pogba, toiling away at the other end of the pitch, who made Manchester United’s first goal against Liverpool possible.

His role in it, stopping Roberto Firmino in his tracks on the edge of his own box and allowing his team-mates to spring forward on the break, typified the selflessness behind his recent resurgence.

Pogba’s future was plunged into doubt when his agent, Mino Raiola, brazenly declared his Manchester United career was “over” in early December but it is brimming with possibility again now.

In the six weeks since, he has split his time between unfamiliar roles at the base of the midfield and the flanks and yet he has been outstanding, helping United first climb to the top of the Premier League then secure a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

He has produced moments of brilliance, most recently his stunning winner against Fulham on Wednesday, but what’s most significant is that he has also shown qualities not normally associated with him.








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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says his Manchester United side have found a way of playing that they believe in following their 3-2 FA Cup win over Liverpool

Tenacity, discipline, teamwork. It was all there in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Liverpool. Pogba started the game alongside Scott McTominay in central midfield but he finished it on the right flank, helping to nullify the threat of the overlapping Andrew Robertson.

“I thought Paul played really well in central midfield today; he got on the ball and won tackles and headers,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer afterwards. “But I thought he played well at Anfield too, covering [on the right] as we know Andy Robertson likes to come forward.

“For a little spell there tonight, they overpowered us a little bit with Robertson. The thinking was to get Bruno [Fernandes] and Fred’s energy on and to get Paul’s power and physical presence to stay with Robertson. I felt he did it perfectly.”

Pogba was certainly a willing runner out on that flank, taking one for the team when he was booked for hauling down Curtis Jones as he charged towards the Manchester United box in the closing stages then rising highest to head the resulting free-kick away himself.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was delighted with the win in Manchester United's image
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was delighted with Pogba’s performance

But he was just as diligent in the centre of the pitch before that. When he was not stealing possession from Firmino, he was taking the ball off the toes of Mohamed Salah or forcing Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara backwards from inside United’s defensive third.

It was not a one-off, either. In Premier League games since Raiola’s comments, only Fred has won possession more times than Pogba among Manchester United players. Only Fred and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have made more tackles than him.

As in United’s other recent games, Pogba was influential on the ball against Liverpool too, launching many of their most threatening attacks as they sought to exploit the visitors’ weakness on the right side of their defence, where Rashford and Luke Shaw ripped into Rhys Williams and Trent Alexander-Arnold repeatedly.



Bruno Fernandes




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Solskjaer praised Bruno Fernandes after his winning goal in Manchester United’s FA Cup win over Liverpool

Pogba even had the energy to get forward and attempt five shots on goal. None of them found the target – his performance was not perfect – but the fact he managed more than any of his team-mates, on top of all the defensive work he put in over the course of the 90 minutes, underlined his all-round contribution to the victory.

Solskjaer deserves credit for his careful man-management. Another coach might have cast Pogba aside after Raiola’s comments. We already know Jose Mourinho, for one, had little patience with the media circus that surrounds the club’s record signing.



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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United’s win over Fulham

But instead of being ostracised Pogba has been trusted, starting 10 of United’s last 14 games in all competitions and completing the 90 minutes in all of them. “I have never had a problem with him,” said Solskjaer last week. “I have been feeling very good, physically and mentally,” said Pogba in an interview with Sky Sports.

If Pogba is feeling good it is because of the way in which his manager has treated him, ignoring the noise off the field and focusing on his performances. Pogba, a peripheral figure at the start of the season, now looks integral to their hopes of maintaining their form.

Manchester United supporters will feel they have been here before. This is not the first time Pogba has produced on an eye-catching run of performances over the last five years and the challenge now is to sustain it in the way he has been unable to on past occasions.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer congratulates Paul Pogba at full-time at Fulham
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Pogba scored United’s winner against Fulham on Wednesday

But recent signs are certainly encouraging. Pogba is showcasing his considerable talent but he is also fulfilling the tactical demands of his manager. “We have found a way that we and the players believe in,” said Solskjaer. Pogba’s performances show he is one of them.

As he approaches the final year of his contract, he has given Manchester United a decision to make on his future.

There seemed little prospect of him signing a new deal after Raiola’s comments at the start of December. But Pogba is putting the team first and Manchester United are feeling the benefits. Perhaps there is a future for him at Old Trafford after all.


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