While Cristiano Ronaldo was giving a pre-match speech to the Manchester United squad on Friday night, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was making his final preparations for the game. One of those decisions could end up much more complicated than for a predictable win over Newcastle United.
Solskjaer went against his usual instinct, and put Paul Pogba in the central two.
The United manager would usually prefer not to play the French star there because he thinks he’s far more effective in a more attacking role, and has wondered whether he actually has the discipline for it.
It is why Solskjaer so often goes for the widely debated combination of Scott McTominay and Fred.
They were absent today, which forced the Norwegian’s hand, and perhaps raises questions over Pogba’s position in this squad – in more than one sense.
Solskjaer had little choice but to play the 28-year-old, and it was aided by the fact Newcastle are going to be one of the more supine sides that United play. If there are any games you can afford a more open midfield, it’s this one. Pogba was also typically superb with the ball in forward positions. One turn towards the end was glorious. That’s the kind of freedom Newcastle will allow.
Even allowing for that, though, Steve Bruce’s attackers just cut through United’s midfield in the way Wolves did.
Had they possessed even medium-class forwards, it could have been a very difficult day for United.
As it was, they more than got away with it. They had too much attacking quality.
That is one thing that remains so striking about this squad. It is so stacked in the forward positions. It is remarkable to think that Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford weren’t even on the bench. United have at least two high-class choices for every position – with Pogba himself capable of playing in an advanced role and out left.
That is in such a contrast to the midfield options, especially Solskjaer doesn’t seem to trust Donny van de Beek there.
That may be why Pogba’s position is all the more interesting.
Given Ronaldo’s signing pushes everyone else one down the pecking order, and there will be pressure to get some attackers in more forgiving games, it may see the French star in the centre much more.
That could bring the possibility for chaos – although at both ends. While it could make United more open, it may also make them more capable of opening the opposition.
That is also what makes Ronaldo all the more important.
His goals bring certainty, especially amid such chaos.
There are at least some signs that United are going back to a stage where it will become about scoring more than the opposition.
Ronaldo will ensure that happens more often than not.
“He senses the big moments, when to arrive in the box,” Solskjaer said. “I thought he played the game in a very, very mature way. He gave one ball away. But he was very efficient with his football.”
That may be essential if United suffer some inefficiency in midfield.
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