Paul Pogba is revitalised as focal point of Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
By Pete Hall at Old Trafford
Last Updated: 27/12/18 11:50am
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's willingness to let Paul Pogba become the focal point at Manchester United is already bearing fruit, writes Pete Hall.
It seems like a lifetime ago that Jose Mourinho clashed with Paul Pogba over the timing of an Instagram post, something that intensified speculation yet further that the pair's relationship had become untenable, and someone, Mourinho or Pogba, had to go.
A large number of fans sided with Mourinho, with Pogba not producing the goods on the pitch, despite his social media presence.
In the end, United's woeful form ensured it was Mourinho who was the man to go, with Pogba immediately restored to the starting line-up by interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the results have been striking, for the club and their record signing.
Pogba has been directly involved in four goals in two Premier League games under Solskjaer - two goals and two assists - the same total he had registered in his last 12 games under Mourinho - one goal, three assists.
Before United's 3-1 victory over Huddersfield on Boxing Day, Solskjaer was keen to reiterate his United side will remain true to the attacking principles of the club, with Pogba seemingly his chief lieutenant in orchestrating such play.
On only one occasion - against Wolves at Old Trafford back in September - has Pogba attempted more passes in the opponent's half than he did against Cardiff (68) in Solskjaer's first game in charge, before following that up with 61 attempted passes in the opponent's half against Huddersfield - his third-best return this season.
Compare that with his last start for United under Mourinho at the beginning of December, where Pogba completed just 26 passes in the opponent's half as United chased the game against lowly Southampton, four less than Ander Herrera.
While it is clear Solskjaer's tactics have been designed around getting Pogba more involved in the play, the early signs of revitalisation in the France international could well have come about due to a simple change of tact in the managerial hot-seat.
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"That's the Paul I've known since he was in the reserves and youth team," Solskjaer said after the match on Boxing Day. "He has always been a happy boy, he has always had a big smile on his face and when you score a goal, or two, of course you are happy. He [Pogba] has got the attributes for scoring, and got a few assists last game. I was very pleased for him today.
"When you play football for Manchester United you should be happy. Of course it's a responsibility, but it's also an honour and a privilege. Paul loves playing for this club. He's a Manchester United boy through and through, a kid who knows what it means to play for Manchester United."
While Mourinho often preferred the confrontational approach with Pogba, and rarely openly praised the man he was often at odds with, Solskjaer has tried the more complimentary route, lavishing this global star with kind words, and it seems to be what brings out his best form.
Good performances against Cardiff and Huddersfield will only win over so many of Pogba's critics, though. Even after he scored his second against Huddersfield it was Solskjaer's name, not Pogba's, that came booming out from the Stretford End.
Progress has certainly been made nonetheless. This was Pogba's most fruitful afternoon of the season. On no other occasion this season has he contributed to more efforts at goal - shots or chances created - and he finished the match with his first goalscoring double since United beat Manchester City back in April.
Having seen his side pick up as many points in five days as Mourinho collected in his last 45 days in the job, Solskjaer can be more than pleased with how things have gone so far.
However, at the heart of all that has been good about United this week is a player who looks a man reborn away from the shackles of a Mourinho system. Pogba needs to now find consistency and, under Solskjaer's watch, it seems he will be given the licence show the world his Old Trafford return can be a success after all.