Arsene Wenger Explains Why Manchester United's Paul Pogba Struggled vs. PSG

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2019

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15:  Arsene Wenger looks at a butterfly as he is interviewed for TV prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger believes Paris Saint-Germain's intelligent way of "blocking" Paul Pogba was key in Les Parisiens' beating Manchester United 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Wenger was on commentary duty for beIN Sports (h/t Alex Richards of the Daily Mirror) as goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe helped PSG win the first leg of the last-16 tie at Old Trafford.

Pogba had been in form before the match, but he couldn't impose himself before being sent off for a second bookable offence late on.

Former Arsenal manager Wenger detailed how PSG took a dual approach to limiting the influence of United's chief playmaker: "What Paris Saint-Germain did is they blocked Pogba with Marquinhos in man-to-man marking, and when Paris Saint-Germain had the ball, Draxler came in behind Pogba and that's where the chances were created behind the midfield of Manchester United."

Pogba rarely got clear of Marquinhos.
Pogba rarely got clear of Marquinhos.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Wenger's analysis was on point as smart tactics and brave performances helped PSG overcome a United side that entered the match in peak form. The Red Devils had won 10 and drawn one in 11 games on the watch of caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who replaced Jose Mourinho back in mid-December.

Pogba had been the catalyst for the prolific and unbeaten run. He was scoring goals and providing assists for fun, even netting a brace during Saturday's 3-0 win away to Fulham in the Premier League.

Stopping Pogba was therefore central to the strategy of PSG boss Thomas Tuchel. Marquinhos was his instrument, with the Brazil international describing the daunting challenge, per Goal's Sabrina Belalmi"The coach gave me an important mission. I had to stay alert and attentive because he's full of confidence, he's played good matches, scored a lot of goals and made a lot of assists. We knew that their play would go through him."

Marquinhos' effectiveness as Pogba's minder was summed by how little the latter was a factor in the final third:

Asking Marquinhos, who is a centre-back by trade, to cope with such a demanding task is a measure of the confidence and trust Tuchel places in the 24-year-old. The ex-Roma ace is repaying the faith in the tournament PSG value most this season:

Keeping Pogba quiet in the areas where he usually does the most damage was only half the battle. As Wenger pinpointed, PSG also succeeded exploiting the spaces behind United's record signing.

Not only did Julian Draxler find room, but former United star Angel Di Maria also did. The latter assisted both goals as the Ligue 1 giants consistently found joy by shifting players off the flanks and into the pockets behind Pogba and in front of deep-lying midfielders Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera.

Matic and Herrera were often overwhelmed by PSG having a man over between the defensive and midfield lines. If anything, the visitors didn't make enough of this advantage.

Wenger touched on how PSG "were not patient enough" with their chances. It's a fair critique considering Mbappe missed three glorious chances, shooting wide improbably in the first half, before hitting the post and drawing a save from David De Gea in the second.

PSG would be out of sight in the tie had it not been for Mbappe's inconsistency in front of goal.
PSG would be out of sight in the tie had it not been for Mbappe's inconsistency in front of goal.FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

While the tie should have been sealed in Manchester, PSG still made an emphatic statement about the strength in depth of their squad. Winning so comfortably without injured strikers Neymar and Edinson Cavani proves Tuchel's men can finally enjoy the success in Europe the club's megarich owners covet, following high-profile exits to Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent years.

As for United, the tendencies Wenger picked out offer an ominous warning to Solskjaer, whose squad is too reliant on Pogba. The message to United's future opponents is clear: stop the No. 6 and you'll beat United.

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