Pogba can take Man Utd to another level by unlocking lesser opponents' defences - Higginbotham

Paul Pogba could be the answer to Manchester United's attacking woes against the Premier League's lesser sides, according to Danny Higginbotham.

A 2-1 derby win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday saw the Red Devils rise to fifth in the top-flight standings, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea after 16 fixtures.

United produced another superb attacking display on the back of a thrilling victory against Tottenham at Old Trafford last Wednesday, improving their impressive recent record against the top six.

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Solskjaer's men have also secured wins over Chelsea and high-flying Leicester City this season while also being the only side to have taken points from runaway leaders Liverpool.

Unfortunately, United have let themselves down during matches against the lower-ranked Premier League teams, when a creative spark is needed to find a way through defences inclined to sit deep and absorb pressure.

Higginbotham, who started his professional career at Old Trafford, feels Pogba can take his old club to another level once he gets back on the pitch, given his ability to "unlock opponents’ defences".

"United played brilliantly to beat Manchester City and Tottenham," Higginbotham wrote in his latest column for The Sun. "They were also excellent in both their league and Carabao Cup wins over Chelsea and picked up draws with decent displays against Liverpool and Arsenal. So United have done well against the traditional top six and they also beat Leicester.

"Their problems have been facing the so-called lesser teams. United have lost to Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle, Bournemouth, while they drew with Southampton.

"The reason they produce their best against the top teams is because they do not necessarily have to dominate possession. That creates space to run into for speedy attackers like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James.

"But they now have to find a way of dealing with teams that are going to sit in against them – and Pogba could be the answer. Solskjaer wants athleticism going forward and Juan Mata does not necessarily fall into that category.

"Pogba, like Mata, is a player who can unlock opponents’ defences, but he also has the dynamism Solskjaer likes."

Paul Pogba Manchester United 2019-20
Paul Pogba Manchester United 2019-20

Higginbotham went on to praise Brazil midfielder Fred, who has only just started to pay back some of the £52 million ($86m)United invested in his talent in the summer of 2018.

The ex-United defender thinks Fred's presence alongside Scott McTominay could free up Pogba in a more advanced position, as he added: "Fred, who was excellent against City, is starting to develop and seems to benefit from having Scott McTominay beside him.

"It was hard to see what Fred’s midfield role was when he moved from Shakhtar Donetsk for £52m, but Solskjaer has simplified things for the Brazilian. He now brings, energy, endeavour and a bit of physicality sat in front of the two centre-backs.

"There is an opportunity for Solskjaer to play a 4-3-3 formation but I don’t think you start Pogba as a No.10 – the Frenchman is someone who can arrive in that position and express himself. With McTominay and Fred protecting the defence, that gives Pogba licence to go forward and drift into that No.10 position.

"Rashford is now playing with freedom, cutting in from the left flank. He is a far better player facing the opposition goal than having his back to it."

Pogba has been out of action since September 30 with an ankle injury, but Solskjaer expects the France international to return to action at some point over the festive period, with a Europa League clash against AZ Alkmaar up next on Thursday.

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