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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Upbeat on 'One of the Best Players in the World' Paul Pogba

Rory Marsden@@roomarsdenFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30: Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal FC at Old Trafford on September 30, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Paul Pogba is not yet fit enough to return for Manchester United's fixture againstΒ AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still hopeful of the Frenchman playing before the turn of the year.

The Frenchman has been out of action with an ankle injury since United's 1-1 draw against Arsenal on September 30.Β 

In his absence, the Red Devils have endured mixed fortunes, but two victories over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the last week indicated a potential upturn in form.

They are back in action at Old Trafford in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Solskajer said the AZ game will come "too early" for Pogba, but he is still hopeful of fielding him in 2019: "He's working hard to get fit and hopefully we can get him back on the pitch."

Asked whether the former Juventus man will get straight back in the team when he is fit, the Norwegian added: "Let's get him fit and back in form. He will play loads of games. He's one of the best players in the world and we're looking forward to having him back."

In Pogba's absence, Scott McTominay has stepped up his performances in impressive fashion, and so has the previously misfiring Fred, who was superb against City:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Fred completed 4/4 take-ons vs. Man City, no player on the pitch completed more. Stepped up again. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ https://t.co/F3EwnzKCIF

The centre of midfield has been an area of concern this season for United, as they were previously short on reliable options in the engine room even with everyone fit.

But McTominay and Fred's recent performances mean Pogba will have to work to reestablish his credentials in the middle of the park at Old Trafford.

In a further boost to United's midfield, Solskjaer confirmed Nemanja Matic is ready to return after being sidelined since early October, but there are still numerous fitness issues in the defence:

Ben Dinnery @BenDinnery

Tomorrow will come too soon for Paul Pogba, but Ole is still hopeful of a RTP in 2019. Matic is fit and available; he could face AZ but Dalot, Rojo, Bailly and Fosu-Mensah remain out. πŸš‘ @PremierInjuries https://t.co/3OsRCOYAmr #MUFC @EuropaLeague

United have already booked their place in the last 32 of the Europa League, which they will have legitimate ambitions of winning in 2019-20.Β 

If the Red Devils can avoid defeat against AZ they will qualify as Group L winners, theoretically handing them an easier route through the first knockout round.Β