Field coaching: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho gives Paul Pogba instructions during the recent match against Tottenham. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Field coaching: Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho gives Paul Pogba instructions during the recent match against Tottenham. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

London — Manchester United’s Champions League trip to Sevilla on Wednesday night is the type of occasion for which the English giants swallowed their pride to pay £89m for Paul Pogba, four years after he left Old Trafford for Juventus as a free agent.

Yet it remains to be seen whether the French midfielder even starts for the first leg of the last-16 tie as much due to his form as his fitness. Pogba has not completed 90 minutes in a month as he has been hauled off by manager Jose Mourinho in defeats at Tottenham and Newcastle, and dropped for victory over Huddersfield at Old Trafford in between.

Reports in the French media emerged last week that Pogba is unhappy with the role given to him by Mourinho, in particular the defensive demands imposed by the Portuguese.

Mourinho pointedly said Pogba would have occupied his favoured role on the left of a midfield three for Saturday’s fifth-round FA Cup win at Huddersfield if he had not been ruled out hours before the game due to illness.

It means you have to defend well, have the physical conditions to go to the other box, where you have to be good at scoring, creating and heading, and then when your team loses the ball, you have to go to the other box
Mourinho

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez on the left side of the United attack in January has exacerbated those differences as Pogba and the Chilean are yet to complete 90 minutes together.

Mourinho described rumours of a breakdown in communication between he and Pogba as "big lies" but has not hidden his criticism of the 24-year-old’s form. "In this moment he is not playing well… and the team needs him at a good level."

Not long after he returned to United, Pogba told French magazine So Foot he would be "the new midfielder", a player Mourinho defined as "can defend, he can win the ball, he can make the play, he can pass, he can score".

That concept does not sound too dissimilar to Mourinho’s definition of a box-to-box midfielder in recent weeks.

"It means you have to defend well, have the physical conditions to go to the other box, where you have to be good at scoring, creating and heading, and then when your team loses the ball, you have to go to the other box," said Mourinho.

Time will tell if United’s star player and coach can harmonise their ideas on paper into reality on the pitch.

AFP

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