Why Manchester United are getting more from Pogba

FFT's Chris Flanagan was in the press box at Selhurst Park on Wednesday night to see Paul Pogba continue his much improved form for Manchester United

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Manchester United had just been beaten 3-1 at Watford, not helped by a poor performance from Paul Pogba, when the Manchester Evening News ran a poll.

'Who should start in midfield with Pogba?' they asked fans. The most popular response, by some distance, was Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick.

Both had been named as substitutes by Jose Mourinho at Vicarage Road, and remained rooted to the bench for the duration. Carrick hadn't played a single Premier League minute all season, Herrera had started only once.

Midfield conundrum

That day at Watford, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney had started in midfield instead. It just didn't work, in either an attacking or defensive sense. No creativity, not a lot of protection for the back four either.

Fans would have to wait some time longer for Carrick and Herrera to get the nod alongside Pogba. The trio linked up from the start in the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the League Cup, but not until the home match against Arsenal on November 19 would they play as a threesome in the Premier League.

And yet United supporters were right, and they were proved so again at Crystal Palace, as Carrick and Herrera once more got the best out of a much-improved Pogba.

The Frenchman was serenely influential as Selhurst Park, completing 77 passes - 29 more than he'd managed on that day at Watford three months earlier.

Jose has recreated Pogba's Juve role

It should come as no surprise that Pogba works well alongside Carrick and Herrera, because the combination pretty much mirrors the one that made him the most expensive player in the world at Juventus.

There, he helped Juve to the 2015 Champions League final while playing alongside Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in a midfield three. Pirlo was the deep-lying pass master, just as Carrick is - even if no-one would suggest he's on the same level as the Italian. Marchisio played to Pirlo's right, keeping the ball tidily with excellent vision and technique, in a not entirely dissimilar fashion to Herrera. Pogba played to Pirlo's left, just as he's now playing to Carrick's left.

Carrick gets star man on the ball

Michael Carrick was the chief provider of possession for Pogba at Selhurst Park. Carrick completed 79 passes during the game and found Pogba an impressive 22 times - six more passes than Crystal Palace midfielder James McArthur played to his entire team during the match.

It allowed Pogba to get on the ball with regularity and use his class to influence the match. Pogba found Carrick 13 times in return but played more passes to advancing left back Daley Blind (16), Wayne Rooney (14) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (14) as he looked to progress the attack, rather indulge in the side-to-side, repetitive passing that United were often guilty of under Louis van Gaal last season.

Pogba is in right place to make telling passes

Pogba wasn't just playing the simple passes either. In his position on the left of a midfield three, he was in a prime position to provide the telling final ball, opening up the defence.

Never was that shown better than in the 89th minute when Pogba collected the ball 35 yards out, shrugged off his marker, turned and picked out the clever pass that played in Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the winning goal.

A total of 32 of Pogba's 77 passes were in the final third of the field, where he could do most damage, and he created four chances  - more than anyone else on the pitch.

Licence to roam - and shoot

Pogba wasn't just a provider, either. With Carrick and Herrera largely staying in position, the French star has been given licence to roam into dangerous areas when he sees fit. It's a luxury he didn't have to quite the same extent in the days when Rooney was playing alongside him in midfield, for example.

He made the most of that freedom at Selhurst Park, getting forward constantly and getting in four attempts on goal, three from inside the penalty area.

A fine left-footed volley was kept out by Wayne Hennessey but Pogba did find the net just before half time, in the right place at the right time (even if that right place was slightly offside) to turn home Ibrahimovic's knockdown.

More performances like the one Pogba produced at Crystal Palace, and you sense that Manchester United could be knocking on the door for a top four spot once again.

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