DANNY MURPHY: Can Paul Pogba deliver against Liverpool?

DANNY MURPHY: Paul Pogba can shock Liverpool if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes off the brakes… pairing him with Bruno Fernandes in United’s midfield is a risk but it is one worth taking at Anfield

  • Manchester United’s missing ingredient has been how to hurt the big teams
  • If they park the bus against Liverpool on Sunday, they will be criticised
  • Paul Pogba is the key to any gamble working for boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 

The missing ingredient in Manchester United’s domestic season so far is how to hurt the big teams. They failed to score against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City twice, and netted only once against Tottenham before conceding six.

It leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a dilemma travelling to Anfield as Premier League leaders. If United park the bus and draw another blank, he’ll be criticised. If they open up and lose their unbeaten run, he’ll be criticised!

I suspect United might try to keep it tight again with Scott McTominay and Fred as twin midfield holders. But it didn’t lead to any joy against City in the Carabao Cup semi-final so I’d be tempted to be braver, treat the Liverpool game as a free hit and attempt to exploit their injury problems. 

Paul Pogba (right) has the chance to take the game to Liverpool on Sunday if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) is brave enough to deploy the Frenchman from the start at Anfield

The key to any gamble working is Paul Pogba. He didn’t play in plenty of big games during 2020 because of injury and loss of form but he’s started this year with a bang and I’d use that surge of confidence to give Jurgen Klopp a surprise he may not be expecting.

Pogba’s revival complicates Solskjaer’s selection because he has made himself undroppable after the classy midweek winner at Burnley.

If the French superstar plays on the left of a front three, it has a knock-on effect because Marcus Rashford then has to switch to the right, where he’s slightly less comfortable without the option to cut inside on his left foot.

It also makes it harder to nullify the threat of Trent Alexander-Arnold because Pogba wants to drift inside rather than sticking to the wing, leaving extra responsibility on Fred. Pogba is also less likely to exploit any space behind the right-back compared to a more natural wide player like Rashford.

Instead, I’d be tempted to play Pogba alongside McTominay or Fred in the central position he occupies for his World Cup-winning national team and break up the partnership of the two more defensively-minded players. 

Solskjaer will be criticised if he tries to park the bus against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday

Over the course of the season, having Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in the same midfield three makes United defensively vulnerable, but for a one-off game like this I think the risk is worth taking.

For one thing, Liverpool aren’t the well-oiled machine from their title-winning season because injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have led to a larger reshuffle.

Fabinho has done well at the back but been missed in midfield. If Jordan Henderson has to play alongside him today, United might find they can capitalise on Liverpool’s new-look midfield not having the same experience of playing together in big matches.

This feels like an old Liverpool-United game with both teams challenging at the top. 

Paul Pogba is much improved of late, and has been influencing the game with Bruno Fernandes

United are unbeaten in 11 league and the way they have fought back to win so often underlines Solskjaer has built a strong team spirit.

He’ll be aware that in this strange season, fortunes can change quickly. Every club has had little stuttering runs where they have been criticised.

But the bonus for United is even if they lose, they are still level on points with the champions with all to play for. And if they win, they move six points clear and deliver a real statement of intent. With Pogba returning to his best, it might be time for the man at the wheel to take the handbrake off. 

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