Paul Pogba’s future continues to divide Manchester United fans, but Peter Crouch thinks the club should “build a team” around the France midfielder.
Crouch joined Danny Murphy on Match of the Day 2 on Sunday to analyse Pogba’s return to action after almost three months out with an ankle injury.
United slumped to a disappointing defeat against the Premier League’s bottom side but Pogba, 26, impressed when he came off the bench for the final 26 minutes, when his side were already 2-0 down.
Here Crouch explains what Pogba brings to the United side, the effect he has on his team-mates, and why it is unfair to always see him as the problem when there are other areas of the team that need sorting out.
‘No Pogba, no creativity’
Crouch: “Without Pogba, and with Juan Mata also starting on the bench, there was not enough guile in the United team to open Watford up.
“The Hornets made things difficult for them by keeping lot of men behind the ball, and they did not leave any space for Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard or Daniel James to run into behind them.
“When that happens, United need someone who has got the ability to unlock the opposition defence and they did not look like making a breakthrough against Watford until Pogba was on the pitch.
“He stood out as soon as he came on because he is forward-thinking, whereas Scott McTominay and Fred just do not see the same things he does, or try them.
“Those two have different strengths and with Pogba alongside them, they make a well-balanced midfield unit but, without him, there is just not enough creativity there.
“With McTominay and Fred sitting deeper, United could give Pogba a free role higher up the pitch and not have to worry about what he brings going the other way.
“He has never been a sitting midfielder anyway. He is an attack-minded player who hurts teams in the final third and brings his team-mates into the game in those areas.”
‘Forward-thinker makes Martial come alive’
Crouch: “Pogba has got great vision, but it is the effect he has on his team-mates that means he is such a dangerous weapon.
“The players in front of him know that he is looking for them, which means they keep making runs.
“I know what it’s like as a striker when the pass does not come – I remember being in teams with players who never tried it. After a while, you realise that and stop making the runs. What is the point?
“Whereas when I was at Liverpool with Steven Gerrard or Stoke with Charlie Adam, I knew they would be looking for me whenever they could and it kept me on my toes.
“It is the same with Pogba at United now.
“You could see the effect his introduction had on the movement of Martial, Rashford and Mason Greenwood on Sunday, because suddenly they were on the move as soon as he got on the ball.
“That stretched Watford’s defences, and spaces started appearing.”
‘Keep Pogba, and use him properly’
Crouch: “I know Pogba sometimes brings a lot of unwanted attention with his off-field antics and some United fans are asking ‘is he worth it?’
“In recent months, you would probably say ‘no’ because he has been injured so frequently, but I think if United had a a fully-fit Pogba and used him in the right role, some of those supporters would have a very different view.
“Quite simply, he is better than anything else United have got and, if he wants to stay, they should keep him and use him properly by building their team around him.
“Pogba is often blamed when things go wrong for United but, if you look beyond his performances, then they have plenty of other issues that need sorting out.
“Two really ridiculous errors cost them two goals against Watford, with one of them coming from goalkeeper David de Gea.
“That kind of thing has been happening a lot with him recently but, when I think of De Gea, I don’t think of an error-prone keeper because he is world class.
“For some reason this season, he has thrown a few in and he will be disappointed with that, but he is still a top-class keeper and there is no reason to panic there.
“It is in midfield and attack where I think United need to add to their squad in January.
“They are short in midfield and need some help up front, that is obvious.
“I am not sure Martial is a centre-forward and James and Rashford are both kids, even if they are doing really well.”
Crouch: “Solskjaer has now been in charge of United for a year, and he has tried to give them an identity as a team that can launch fast attacks and tear through opponents.
“They are well organised when they are out of possession and then they have the pace of their front players to hurt people on the break.
“But that only seems to work against teams who attack them – and the statistics back that up when you look at the contrast between United’s record against sides above and below them in the table this season.
“When teams have a go at them, there is space for Rashford and everyone else to run into, just as they did to such devastating effect in the Manchester derby earlier this month.
“Using that pace is key to United’s game. Where they struggle is against teams lower down the table, like Watford, who sit deep and defend in numbers and let United have the ball.
“Many of the teams to take points off United this season have done exactly that – shut up shop, and been difficult to break down – because they know it works.
“What United need to do next is work out a way of putting those teams away too. I think a fit and hungry Pogba could be the answer, and it would be great for him to get the chance to prove it.”