Paul Pogba Tactical Focus: Why Juventus Star Is Already a Complete Midfielder

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Paul Pogba Tactical Focus: Why Juventus Star Is Already a Complete Midfielder
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Paul Pogba has long been talked about as one of the most prominent prospects in world football, and now he's finally starting to realise some of his incredible potential.

He was the source of much controversy in 2009 as Manchester United poached him from Le Havre's famed academy, and already then there were suggestions he could become one of the best in the world.

Instead of exposing him to the limelight of professional football, Sir Alex Ferguson tucked the then-16-year-old into the reserves to allow him to grow in his own time.

He moved through the gears quickly—perhaps too quickly—and in 2012 became frustrated with the lack of first-team opportunities. He seized his chance to leave at the end of his contract, selecting Juventus from reams and reams of suitors; his talent was still abundantly obvious.

Since moving to Turin he's flourished, and Antonio Conte has given the Frenchman what Sir Alex failed to: legitimate game time and an opportunity to win a place in the first XI.

The 20-year-old we see before us is making gargantuan strides that live up to his on-field nickname (Paul the Octopus), and it seems just a matter of time before he cements his status as a world-class player.

What makes Il Polpo Paul so special?

 

Physical and Mental Marvel

We often talk about success as if it's easy to attain, then subsequently lament players who may have been "born in the wrong era" and suggest that's the prime barrier to certain individuals' progression.

Andy Carroll is an example of that, as for every part of him that replicates the battering ram figure of Duncan Ferguson, there's a part of him that clearly doesn't fit in today's possession-oriented game. Ganso could be considered another.

There are also players who are born in the right era, and that's certainly been the case when it comes to Pogba's rapid ascension to Juventus' first XI.

We're beginning to see more and more formations geared toward allowing physically excellent players to showcase their strengths. Conte's Bianconeri is a prime example, with both his 4-3-3 and his 3-5-2 systems requiring vertical drive and aggressive movements from deep.

Dino Panato/Getty Images

Kwadwo Asamoah was an attacking midfielder once, but now he's a fully converted left wing-back, playing in a position that allows him to use his incredible engine and vertical style to great effect.

He, Mauricio Isla, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Arturo Vidal are just four of many players on the books in Turin who couldn't ask for a better tactical fit. Pogba, a physical marvel, is in the same boat.

At just 20 he towers over most midfielders, outmuscles half of them and outthinks the rest. He's supremely confident in his own ability, and that allows him to play an expressive game without the fear of making mistakes.

There's every chance that, when fully developed at 25, he'll be unmatched as a midfield engine, capable of dominating everyone in his path. His first-half performance against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League gave us a frightening glimpse of what he's capable of (even now) against the elite teams in world football.

There are few more complete players in world football even at this stage in his career, and he's shown the ability to take on almost any midfield role. It's just another thing that makes him such a precocious talent, and we'll examine him in a few of these roles here.

 

Pogba as a Regista

At the end of September 2013, Juventus were handed the small matter of the Turin derby away from home.

Andrea Pirlo was dropped to the bench in favour of a Claudio Marchisio-Vidal-Pogba midfield, with the latter in the famous "regista" role Pirlo has made his own over the last decade and a bit.

BT Sport/YouTube

The regista will control everything from deep in midfield, dictate tempo and fire off inch-perfect passes to every corner of the pitch. He's the heartbeat of the side, and if he doesn't play well, the entire team will struggle.

To put Pogba, at 20, in this role in the bitter Derby della Molle was some sign of faith from Conte, and the Frenchman went on to display his obvious strengths and talents throughout.

He ended up scoring the sole goal of the game, a headed winner, but it was his performance throughout that impressed more. His passing isn't on the same level as Pirlo, but the confidence exuded in controlling proceedings was astonishing.

BT Sport/YouTube
Pogba spots danger early and races in to intercept high.

He sat in front of the defensive line, fired off vertical passes and provided an excellent shield for Giorgio Chiellini and co. Pirlo is an underrated tackler, but Pogba trumps him even at this stage; he has the mobility and footballing IQ to sense danger early and quell it, allowing La Vecchia Signora to build sustained periods of pressure.

Pogba finished the game with one goal, one interception, six tackles and 63 touches of the ball, according to WhoScored.com.

 

Pogba as a Shuttler

It's not in Conte's remit to exclude Pirlo at this stage, but there is an obvious intent to marginalise his importance to the side given the fact his contract expires at the end of the current season.

Whether that means grooming Pogba to be Juve's next full-time regista, bringing back Luca Marrone or changing the style, we can't say just yet, but it would be foolish not to utilise Pirlo's excellence for one final campaign.

That's meant Pogba and Pirlo on the pitch together plenty of times already this season, with the former moving into a box-to-box (or "shuttling") role while the latter resumes his mantle as chief playmaker.

Opinion will be divided, but this is the role we believe to be his best: a box-to-box responsibility that allows him to extend those long loping legs and utilise his powerful frame in one-v-one situations.

BT Sport/YouTube

His dribbling is getting stronger, he's winning more take-ons and he's lethal when he spots a pocket of space to leap into. That said, he doesn't neglect his positional duties either, and his work rate for both Juve and France remains extremely high.

BT Sport/YouTube

The 3-0 victory over Napoli, in which he scored a spectacular third, is perhaps the flagship game of his career so far, as with Pirlo pulling the strings from deep, Pogba was able to dart into space from a defensive position and force the Partenopei onto the back foot.

He can do it from deep and run straight at you—which is terrifying—or in advanced positions to craft shooting opportunities. His strike that beat Pepe Reina against Napoli was beyond sublime.

 

Looking Forward

It appears Conte is giving serious thought toward a full-time switch to a 4-3-3 formation, abandoning the 3-5-2 but for the odd occasion.

The latter system has failed miserably in the Champions League (where the club is bottom of Group B with two matchdays remaining), and Juve will soon be at a stage whereby deep runs in that competition will be required to keep Pogba at the club.

Either one suits Pogba down to ground; such is his incredible versatility and status as a near-complete midfielder. He can pass, shoot, dribble, tackle, intercept and head; he can do everything there is to do already.

His best form appears to come in a box-to-box role, and there are legitimate fears that grooming the Frenchman as a regista will waste his incredible athleticism and surging ability.

For him to reach the top of the game he needs to be unleashed, and Conte needs to make some vital decisions this summer when it comes to how his XI will shape up.

Pogba will excel regardless, and it's a matter of whether he becomes a great player or one of the best this game has ever seen. Conte's use of him, even at this stage, will impact his eventual fate.

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