Pogba's injury absence could be a blessing in disguise for Solskjaer.

Paul Pogba’s injury absence could be a blessing in disguise for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer… Man United have coped without the French midfielder before, the manager won’t have to figure out where to play him and Donny van de Beek may finally get a chance

  • Paul Pogba will be sidelined for between 6-8 weeks with a thigh muscle injury
  • It’s a blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in terms of personnel levels in weeks ahead
  • But it’s hardly a disaster for Man United and could solve the manager’s problems
  • Pogba started the season well but his form has tailed off dramatically 
  • Under-pressure Solskjaer can now play Fred and McTominay without guilt
  • And Pogba’s absence may finally afford Donny van de Beek a run in the team 

Football’s wheel of fortune spins quickly. Rewind six or seven weeks and Manchester United had the genuine look of title contenders, with everything coming together for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Now they’re deep in turmoil, with that silverware challenge already dead, rivals outclassing them and Solskjaer fighting to save his job.

Paul Pogba has been United’s collapse in microcosm. When the French midfielder contributed seven assists in United’s first four games of the season, we wondered if he’d finally hit peak form.

Paul Pogba suffered a thigh muscle injury during a training session with France on Monday

Pogba told fans he is set for a scan in the coming days after injuring his right thigh, and he is on crutches (right) as he awaits further news on the issue 

Since then, he’s looked as lost and forlorn as everybody else in the team, allowing frustrations to consume him with that horrible two-footed lunge on Naby Keita to see red in Liverpool’s 5-0 win at Old Trafford.

That afternoon was a modern-day nadir for United – the team, manager and Pogba himself – and with his contract set to expire next summer, some suggested we’d never see him play for the club again.

We certainly won’t see Pogba until the new year – a thigh muscle injury sustained while attempting a shot in training at France’s Clairefontaine training base on Monday will see him sidelined for between six and eight weeks.

Pogba would have been suspended for United next game away to Watford anyway but now he’ll also likely miss Premier League matches against Chelsea, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Norwich, Brentford, Brighton, Newcastle and Burnley plus two crunch Champions League fixtures with Villarreal and Young Boys.

But how much of a setback this actually is for Solskjaer and United is open to debate. Pogba’s absence could actually temporarily solve a few issues when it comes to picking the midfield.

It caps a torrid few weeks for the midfielder, who was sent off in the 5-0 defeat by Liverpool

He was then taken off by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a shocking display against Atalanta 

The games Pogba could miss 

Premier League unless stated

November 20 Watford (A)

November 23 Villarreal (A)

Champions League

November 28 Chelsea (A)


December 2 Arsenal (H)

December 5 Crystal Palace (H) 

December 8 Young Boys (H)

Champions League

December 11 Norwich City (A)

December 14 Brentford (A)

December 18 Brighton (H)

December 27 Newcastle (A)

December 30 Burnley (H) 

The long-standing question of where to play Pogba – in central midfield or further forward on the left – is one headache the manager won’t have to deal with.

It could finally open the door for Donny van de Beek, United’s forgotten £40million signing, to show us what he is capable of having been so starved of game time.

And if Solskjaer wants to persist with a 3-5-2 set-up, he doesn’t have to figure out how to accommodate Pogba when he really requires two holding players in Fred and Scott McTominay.

The reality is United have learned to cope without Pogba in recent years.

It is incredibly hard to argue that he would have made the slightest bit of different in narrowing the enormous gulf in class to Manchester City had he been available for Saturday’s derby.

Pogba started the season in electric form, setting up four goals in the 5-1 win over Leeds 

But the Frenchman’s form has slumped in recent weeks as United have descended into crisis

Last season, Pogba produced his best football in a United shirt around the turn of the year, scoring crucial goals at Burnley and Fulham that very briefly offered hope of a title challenge.

When he suffered a hamstring injury in mid-February, United still went unbeaten in six league games without him, as well as progressing in the FA Cup and Europa League.

Pogba’s steady flow of goals and assists did continue once he regained fitness but had he remained injury-free, would he alone have bridged the eventual 12-point gap to champions City? Unlikely.

United arguably missed him more in 2019-20, when ankle problems ruled Pogba out for much of Solskjaer’s first full season in charge.

He did find form after the Premier League restarted in June but, again, United finished the season 33 points shy of champions Liverpool and 15 behind City.

United have managed to cope when Pogba has been out injured before and will do so again

In many regards, being without Pogba for a while solves a tactical dilemma for the manager 

Pogba is a hugely talented midfielder, but few players have the influence to make up such deficits.

He remains an enigma to many. More than capable of running the midfield in a Premier League game on his day but anonymous on so many others.

So while losing Pogba for so long is a blow to Solskjaer in terms of stocks of personnel during a hectic part of the season, he has managed without him often enough in the past.

It was easy enough to accommodate him during those early games this season, when Marcus Rashford was still sidelined and there was a vacancy on the left of attack.

Against opponents towards the lower end of the table, Pogba could be fielded in central midfield and given licence to push forward with just one holding player required.

But there was no space for him against Liverpool because Rashford was back and both Fred and McTominay were needed, leading to that disastrous cameo from the bench.

Solskjaer will probably persists with Fred (left) and Scott McTominay (right) in his midfield

It’s unlikely he would have started against Tottenham or Man City either and in between he had a shocker against Atalanta.

With Solskjaer feeling the heat, you wouldn’t blame him for sticking with the ‘McFred’ combination even against the likes of Watford. Pogba’s absence means he won’t have to feel guilty about leaving him out anyway.

What happens now with Van de Beek will be fascinating. The Stretford End sung his name repeatedly during the second-half on Saturday until Solskjaer eventually brought him on with 10 minutes left.

Even that amount of time was a lot for the Dutchman, who has been an unused substitute in 11 games out of 16 this season and must find it very difficult to hide his frustration.

The counter-argument is that Van de Beek has shown little to suggest he deserves more regular football when he does get on the pitch. Too many games have passed him by.

Pogba’s absence may finally afford Donny van de Beek and extended run of games at United

Van de Beek has spent the bulk of his United career on the bench and things must change

Solskjaer may also feel he doesn’t want to bow to pressure from the fans just because they were singing Van de Beek’s name.

But Pogba’s injury bumps him up the pecking order and there are games ahead when Bruno Fernandes could be given a rest and Van de Beek start, or where he could slot into central midfield.

You sense that if Solskjaer doesn’t make use of him now, there really is no point him prolonging the agony beyond January when United can cut their losses.

Few United fans will feel Pogba’s absence is a crisis. He has enjoyed some purple patches during this calendar year but being without him is nowhere near as disastrous as being without, say, Cristiano Ronaldo, David de Gea or Rashford in top form.

Solskjaer won’t have to figure out how to make best use of him for a while and others will get their chance to lift some of the gloom that has enveloped Old Trafford.

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