Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Sunday for an all-important Premier League clash with bitter rivals Manchester United. Victory will see the Reds pull clear at the top of the table, with Manchester City engaged in Carabao Cup action elsewhere.
Defeat, however, would dent the Anfield club’s title hopes and could turn the tide of the battle in the favour of the reigning champions. Whatever the outcome, the psychological impact of the result of Sunday’s match could be season-defining for Liverpool.
With the stakes so high, Jurgen Klopp will be desperate for victory. Success will not come easily though. The Red Devils have been in fine form since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment. The Norwegian coach has revitalised the club, as evidenced by the seismic improvement in star man Paul Pogba’s form.
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If Liverpool are to stand any chance of victory on Sunday, then Klopp must find a way to stop the 25-year-old midfielder. Football FanCast outline three suggestions below…
The obvious solution is to try and take the Frenchman out of the game by tasking one man with the job of marking and tracking him relentlessly throughout the 90 minutes. Either Fabinho or Jordan Henderson would be well-suited to this task. The Brazilian would certainly be a physical match for Pogba.
By tasking Fabinho with restricting Pogba, the French midfielder may find his ability to find space and influence the game limited. This could lead to him getting frustrated – he was sent off against PSG last week – or even taken off by Solskjaer in order to try a different approach.
An alternative, but potentially equally effective, method of restricting Pogba’s ability to assert his control is by cutting off the supply lines to the 64-cap France international. Solskjaer’s side know that the World Cup winner is their key man, so they naturally try to get him on the ball as often as possible. Pogba’s midfield partners, such as Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic, will constantly be looking for the former Juventus man.
However, Liverpool can make picking out Pogba an arduous task. By closing down and harrying the man on the ball, and cutting off passing lanes to Pogba, Liverpool can force the United players to have to find an alternative option to giving the ball to the 6’3” midfielder.
Structurally, that could come in the form of, simply, three flat central midfielders who position themselves between Herrera, Matic and the space between the lines that Pogba likes to occupy.
A more industrial approach to stopping Pogba would be to use raw physicality to impede him. This doesn’t just mean cynical, tactical fouling – though, that’s certainly a part of it – but by crowding the Frenchman out, consistently jostling him, and generally never giving him an inch to establish command over the midfielder.
However, this is a risky strategy. If executed clumsily it can lead to cards being shown and dangerous set piece situations being conceded. There’s also a danger of Pogba beating the press, which will inevitably leave gaps throughout the rest of the team.