We take a look at why Paul Pogba’s ‘struggles’ at Manchester United have been hugely overblown, why Daniel Sturridge can still play a big role for Liverpool and the improved form of Leeds and former Arsenal star Serge Gnabry.
Was Pogba’s ‘positional problem’ overblown?
Paul Pogba has had a slow start to life back at Manchester United, but his recent performances for both club and country suggest he is starting to regain his best form. After scoring a brilliant goal in United’s 3-1 victory at Swansea, Pogba was on the scoresheet once again as France beat Sweden 2-1 in Paris.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but should it have been that much of a surprise that the 23-year-old did not hit the ground running at Old Trafford following his world-record transfer from Juventus? After helping France to the final of Euro 2016, the midfielder did not return to pre-season training with the Italian outfit until the second week of August, by which point the gears were in motion for his return to United. Pogba now appears back in the groove, which is a daunting proposition for opposing teams.
In fact, while the media are quick to criticise, the player has – put simply – been nowhere near as bad as made out. Indeed, his stats for United after 10 games are on a par with what he was achieving for Juventus.
2016/17: 10 games, 2 goals, 19 chances created, 0 assists, 86% pass accuracy
2015/16: 10 games, 1 goal, 15 chances created, 1 assist, 87% pass accuracy
2014/15: 10 games, 3 goals, 18 chances created, 1 assist, 81% pass accuracy
Interestingly, Pogba impressed for France on Friday playing alongside Blaise Matuidi in a 4-2-3-1, with Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann and Moussa Sissoko operating behind Olivier Giroud; a role in which his performances attracted criticism at the start of the campaign. It was argued the position stunted his best abilities, and yet his display for France suggested otherwise.
Pogba saw plenty of the ball for Les Bleus and was able to keep things ticking over in possession. While he had to be mindful of his defensive duties, on numerous occasions he was also able to break forward and find himself in good shooting opportunities.
Pogba is too good a footballer to simply say ‘he cannot play in that position’ and Mourinho will be greatly encouraged by his recent displays. It is now down to the Portuguese to find the right balance – and decide on a suitable midfield partner – to allow the jewel in Manchester United’s crown to shine.
Sturridge can be Liverpool’s secret weapon this season
With all the media hype, quite rightly, heralding the form of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, it’s becoming all too easy for Liverpool fans to cast aside the talents of Daniel Sturridge.
The striker has endured something of a bit-part role at Anfield this season, though, when fit, the striker remains unquestionably one of the top players in the British game.
Admittedly, his progress at Anfield – and particularly in the first few months of Jurgen Klopp’s reign – has been stunted by his apparent unwillingness to play at anything less than 100%. But has his time on the sidelines – and away from regular first-team limelight – given Sturridge time to assess his options and sharpen his focus?
The striker reminded us of his ability with a well-taken header in Friday’s all-too-easy success over Scotland at Wembley (incidentally, was that the worst Scottish side England have faced in living memory?!).
4 – Daniel Sturridge has scored in four of his last six starts for England at Wembley (four goals). Potent.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 11, 2016
And while stats can be used in a positive or negative sense to back up anyone’s case, it’s all too easy to write off Sturridge simply as a ‘player unable to fit into Klopp’s system’.
I’m a firm believer in the old adage that good players can adapt to any system and an in-form Sturridge would certainly not look out of place in Liverpool’s attack.
The striker has looked sharp in recent weeks and anyone who witnessed his 71st-minute introduction against Watford last weekend, will have noted a player still very much keen to impress at Liverpool and catch Klopp’s eye.
The player was incredibly unlucky not to score, striking the woodwork twice and then seeing another effort parried in the build-up to Gini Wijanldum’s first for the club, and the Reds’ sixth on the day.
If anyone beforehand doubted the player’s mentality at Liverpool, he’d have eradicated it in that 19-minute appearance alone.
Put simply, the game’s top players do not want to spend time sat on benches, and it’s for that reason more than any other that you see Sturridge linked with moves to the likes of Arsenal.
Indeed, it’s simply unthinkable to suggest Liverpool will sell Sturridge in January given the minimum four-match absence of Mane to African Cup of Nations duties.
— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) November 7, 2016
Sturridge enjoyed his best form for Liverpool in that 2013/14 season alongside Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, where the three of them scored 29 goals and assisted 22 in the 17 games they started together.
And if he can make the most of Mane’s absence in the new year, would it be a huge surprise to see that kind of form replicated once he gets regular game time alongside Firmino and Coutinho?
Klopp says Liverpool fans “need to be prepared” for new additions in January and while it’d be futile to say they won’t sign anyone, the answer to any striking problems in the new year could already be at the club.
Football these days is all about the squad depth and strength, and Liverpool might find in Sturridge they have a player who not only is fresh as a daisy, but also more keen than ever to prove a point to his manager.
Silence is golden for rejuvenated Leeds
When Garry Monk was reportedly on the verge of losing his job just two games into his reign as Leeds United boss, it appeared that their long-suffering fans were experiencing yet another spin of an all-too-familiar depressing cycle under Massimo Cellino.
However, an emphatic run of 22 points from a possible 30 on offer has seen the Whites propelled into the play-off spots for the first time in three years, sealing a place in the League Cup quarter-finals – the first time they’d reached the last eight in 20 years – along the way, too.
There is no grand masterplan behind Leeds’ recent success. Monk is simply feeling the full benefit of what the six previous head coaches before him would have all craved: blissful silence from the Italian above.
Cellino’s gradual retreat away from the spotlight has resulted in two big positives: the first is the hope that a takeover headed by Andrea Radrizzani is imminent and the second is the fact that it has allowed Monk to get on with his job without being constantly undermined.
The uncertain future of Charlie Taylor aside, Monk has the luxury of working with a settled squad which has that all-important blend of youth and experience. Kalvin Phillips and the wonderfully-named Ronaldo Vieira are the latest academy products to shine in the first team, while Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson are forming a rock-solid partnership at the heart of the Whites’ defence.
— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) November 6, 2016
The club have won 11 of their last 16 games and while two incredibly gutsy recent wins against Norwich in the Championship and League Cup have shown the growing strength in Leeds’ character, the next month will act as the best indicator of just what can be achieved this season.
Leeds play three of the top six in Newcastle, Brighton and Reading, have a home clash against an improving Aston Villa side under Steve Bruce and a daunting trip to Liverpool in the League Cup on the agenda as well.
There is also the FA verdict of the long-running investigation into Ross McCormack’s £12.5million transfer to Fulham looming large, but if Leeds can emerge from this crucial period relatively unscathed then maybe the fans will dare to utter the ‘promotion’ word without a hint of sarcasm.
Arsenal’s Gnabry mistake?
When players leave Arsenal, they usually fall into one of two categories: 1) they’ve been poached away by a bigger fish, or 2) they leave because Arsene Wenger, correctly, has deemed them not good enough.
In fact, it’s quite rare to find Wenger get it wrong when it comes to deciding which players aren’t up to the task at Arsenal.
But having witnessed the rise of Serge Gnabry this season, one does wonder if, for once, the Frenchman did have the blinkers on.
The player – who this time last year was branded “not good enough” for West Brom – left the Gunners in a £5million move to Werder Bremen after little more than 18 appearances under Wenger.
But since the move back to his homeland, Gnabry has netted four times in nine Bundesliga appearances this season, before making history with a hat-trick on his Germany debut on Friday night.
Fair enough, it was hard to see where Gnabry would get game time in Arsenal’s forward line during the summer, but if the player continues to progress as he has, how long will it be before some of the big names come in for the 21-year-old…?
In the case of Gnabry, it might have to be filed under a ‘rare transfer mistake’ from Wenger.