Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hailed Paul Pogba’s versatility as questions remain about what role brings the best out of the mercurial Frenchman.
Pogba has been dogged by criticism that he needs specific players around him to unlock his best qualities, rather than being able to dominate a midfield on his own.
Since making Pogba their club-record signing in 2016, United have spent over £80million recruiting first Nemanja Matic and then Fred as players who could control games and allow Pogba the freedom to play his best.
But the 26-year-old, who won the World Cup last year playing in a two-man midfield alongside N’Golo Kante having previously said his best position is on the left of a midfield three, still struggles to produce his best on a consistent basis.
He is in the midst of his most productive club season, with 16 goals and 10 assists, and Solskjaer says Pogba’s ability to play in different systems is a huge asset.
“Everyone has got an opinion on Paul,” said Solskjaer, as reported by Goal. “And of course, together with Paul, we have sat down and discussed his positioning.
“We know he can play as a ten or a six, we know he can play in probably his preferred position as one of the three in midfield — high, like he did for us at the beginning, like he has done with Juventus.
“With France he has played as one of the two sitters, or one of the two central midfielders with N’Golo Kante.
“So that is the great thing with Paul. He can do both and what we have to do with all the players is adjust to the games, what that game needs.
“Some games have needed Paul to drop back, sometimes it has needed him high up the field.
“You can see teams now thinking more about what Paul’s position is and trying to stop him in that position. He is no different to others in that we tweak his position a little bit for the team’s benefit.”
Everton are fighting for seventh place, making this a crucial fixture for both teams.
Here are some talking points for Sunday’s game:
MARTIAL, LUKAKU HAVE POINTS TO PROVE
Solskjaer was unequivocal about the challenge ahead to build a team that could compete with Barcelona rather than be humbled by them, and in the aftermath of the midweek quarter-final elimination he said several players needed a reality check about their performances for United.
He was asked specifically about Anthony Martial, and confirmed he had spoken to the Frenchman. Though the mercurial winger has shown signs of improvement this season, he’s also blown hot and cold, and not looked at his best recently.
The 23-year-old definitely has a point to prove.
And what about Romelu Lukaku? He left Everton in 2017 to take the next step in his career and compete for trophies.
Two years later, he faces his former club having won nothing. There’s talk of a summer exit.
But on current form, would clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Paris Saint-Germain – reported destinations for the Belgian – really want him?
Anthony Martial has 5 goals and 2 assists in the last 6 games he has played against Everton he is their kryptonite nearly every time they play against each other. Our attackers need to step up on Sunday. It’s time to regain our form back. Come on United❤️pic.twitter.com/j0SA5zDbXu— Tяυsτ №¹-Yahya™ (@RealistYahz) April 19, 2019
THE UNITED WAY AKA WHERE IS MASON GREENWOOD?
While it didn’t come up in his pre-match press conference, Solskjaer has quickly become famous for his utterances on “the United way” or “United DNA” or “this is Manchester United”.
And yet, a central tenet of United’s identity is the promotion of youth, and while Solskjaer started promisingly on that front in recent weeks he seems to have forgotten his philosophy. With Martial, Lukaku, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford all struggling for goals, Mason Greenwood would have been forgiven for thinking he deserved more opportunities.
He has come on three times when United were chasing a late goal, and the first two were marquee games – PSG and Arsenal away. But last weekend’s appearance against West Ham was his first in a month, and he wasn’t part of the traveling squad for Barcelona.
The 17-year-old is in terrific form for the reserves. Will he get more than a cameo on Sunday?
Mason Greenwood across all youth levels this season:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 20, 2019
⭐️ 28 appearances
⚽️ 29 goals
🅰️ 12 assists
Special. 🙌🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/EtwTWLq9NX
WHICH EVERTON WILL TURN UP?
It’s hard to know what to make of Everton this season.
At home, they’ve beaten Chelsea and Arsenal, drawn with Liverpool, and played creditably in a loss against champions Man City – a game they probably didn’t mind losing anyway, as the result hurt Merseyside rival Liverpool’s title chances. They’ve also lost 6-2 to Tottenham.
In their last five matches they’ve had those home wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as West Ham, direct rivals for seventh place, away, but also lost away to Newcastle – in a game they led 2-0 – and already-relegated Fulham.
So which Everton are turning up on Sunday? They acquitted themselves well in October’s 2-1 loss to United, and of course, Solskjaer’s side themselves are no guarantee of high-quality performance, especially with that defence against quality attackers like Richarlison and Bernard.
Can the Toffees claim another top-six scalp, or will the Goodison Park faithful go home disappointed?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes some members of his Manchester United squad need a “reality check” ahead of a potentially pivotal next few weeks for the club.
United face a battle to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition next season but while Solskjaer is satisfied with the attitude of the majority of his squad, he delivered a remarkable broadside at others.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Premier League visit to Everton on Sunday, the United manager said: “I’ve learned a lot about them over the months I’ve been here now.
“You get to know them, most of them have really impressed me in their attitude and there are some that need to get a reality check on where they’re at.
“When you’re out there, there is no hiding place, you can’t hide and everyone can see where your levels are at.
“We’re also working on training here with a fantastic staff I’ve got to create this culture that we want.
“You’ve got players to take ownership of what’s happening here as well. But of course it’s the performances on the pitch which will determine where they’re at in their careers. But most of them know they can improve if they keep working as they do.”
One of those who attracted Solskjaer’s discontent is Anthony Martial, who signed a new five-year contract in January but has delivered a string of underwhelming performances in recent weeks.
The Norwegian added: “I’ve spoken to individuals and they know, and Anthony’s one of them, I’ve spoken to all of them individually what we expect from them.
“Anthony’s got a massive talent, he’s signed a new contract, he knows that we believe in him so just keep on working.
“I think anyone that plays for Manchester United has to deliver to stay in the squad and stay in the team. Anthony’s no different to (Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez) or the many forwards that we have to choose from.”
Anthony Martial has failed to hit the target in each of his last four appearances for Man Utd:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 16, 2019
𐄂 0/0 vs. Wolves
𐄂 0/0 vs. Barcelona
𐄂 0/1 vs. West Ham
𐄂 0/1 vs. Barcelona
0/2 shots on target in 194 minutes of football. pic.twitter.com/d31Bi6U4Gt
Solskjaer faces a summer of upheaval as he looks for United to challenge on both domestic and European fronts once again.
However, the former United striker warned a spate of signings will not act as a panacea.
Solskjaer said: “We know we have to be realistic here and we know we have a job to be done. There’s no quick fix, it’s not like we buy seven players and suddenly we’re in the right shape, we are where we are.
“We have to take it step-by-step and of course there will be signings made in the summer.”
Solskjaer and his troops have no time to dwell on the Barcelona defeat with three crucial clashes in the space of eight days coming up, starting with their trip to Goodison Park.
The Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Wednesday is then followed by Chelsea’s visit on Sunday week in a run of fixtures that could go a long way towards defining United’s campaign.
Solskjaer, who revealed midfielder Ander Herrera is back in training, said: “You have to get on with it quickly, just accept we’re out of the Champions League. There is no shame in going out to Barcelona.
“We spoke about it after the game and said we want to be here again. To be back at these stadiums, we need to get among the top four.
“It’s a fantastic week to look forward to. The players are in a good state mentally and they’re strong mentally.”