Manchester United are set to be bereft of the services of midfielder Paul Pogba for the next few weeks
Since making a return to Old Trafford for a then world-record signing of £89 million, Paul Pogba has often been a polarising figure among rival fans. Even certain sects of the Manchester United community cast doubts over the Frenchman’s arrival last season as the Red Devils finished in a disappointing 6th position on the table.
With the summer arrival of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea, Pogba was given the leeway to express himself and play a freer role than what he had to last season. Due to the lack of a sitting midfielder to shield the defence, the onus often fell on the Frenchman to get the job done for his.
To be honest, that’s not a role that he is accustomed to, due to which his performances on the pitch were erratic. His passing was off the mark, and it looked like he wasn’t enjoying himself on the field play, regardless of his errant and flamboyant ways off it.
But, with the presence of Matic, Pogba has been given the permission to surge forward, and contribute a lot more in front of goal. Jose Mourinho’s decision to give his most expensive signing the freedom to play closer to the opposition’s goal has seen United score a lot more in the fixtures they struggled to get a hold on last year.
However, as the old cliche goes, all good things have to come to an end, Pogba’s good run of form unfortunately came to a sudden halt as he pulled his hamstring in the 3-0 victory over Swiss side FC Basel at Old Trafford, and has missed the following three games in all competitions for the club.
In his stead, Mourinho opted to start with Marouane Fellaini against former side Everton last Saturday in the league, and the Belgian was named in the playing eleven once again for United’s tricky away win over Southampton at St. Mary’s.
While United have won both their league games with the Belgian instated in the team, despite offering a lot off the ball, there’s no secret he isn’t the best on it. From being a maligned figure last season to somewhat of a cult hero this time around, Fellaini still has own set of critics, who continue to believe he is not the ideal replacement for Pogba.
And with good reason. There is undoubtedly nobody in the United team that can match up to the industry and precision the former Juventus superstar brings to the table, Fellaini is certainly not an ideal understudy to him as he offers a completely different skill set.
The Belgian midfielder isn’t one to play in the holding role, nor is he one to run box-to-box for the entire ninety minutes. His job is solely to be a threat aerially and use his his sturdy frame to win half chances in the middle of the park, to recycle possession and to become the focal point when Mourinho decides to go route one.
The traits mentioned above are essential for every footballer, particularly one playing in a highly competitive league such as the Premier League, but technically, Fellaini fails to offer anything spectacular, and can often be the team’s Achilles heel if things aren’t going as per plan.
Yes, he may have the ability to turn the complexion of the game within the span of a few minutes, but he is at his prolific best while coming off the bench. Ideally, with Matic playing as the holding midfielder and either one of Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Juan Mata playing in the number 10 position, Ander Herrera should be named in the playing eleven.
The Spaniard was the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for the 2016/17 season, and deserves to be in with a shout of playing regular first-team football in the league. Herrera, despite his adept versatility has made just a solitary Premier League start this season and has played a meagre 118 minutes.
To get the best out of the 28-year-old, it is imperative to play him on a regular basis, and play him in a similar position to that of Pogba. Sure he isn’t as dynamic as the Frenchman, but can quietly go on about his work without drawing needless attention like Fellaini often does.
He can attack, defend, play the simple passes and look for the killer ball every now and then – something that is missing from Fellaini’s repertoire. The Belgian continues to remain Mourinho’s favoured option, but his recent performance against Southampton could make the manager think otherwise.
It can be argued that it is unfair to judge Fellaini on the basis of one bad game, but United will have a hard time to match up man for man against the bigger sides, where Herrera’s creativity could come in play over the Belgian’s physicality.