Paul Pogba has again been linked with a move to Spain, with talk about a possible move to Barcelona before the end of the window.
Despite a seemingly less than comfortable relationship with Jose Mourinho, it would be a surprise if United were willing to let such a big asset leave the club. When you factor in the Premier League transfer window closing on Thursday, and how little time United would have to find a replacement, it makes a deal this summer look even less likely.
But rumours linking the Frenchmen are unlikely to go away beyond this window, so it’s worth theorising whether Pogba to Barcelona would be a good fit.
Pogba has the ability to be an influential midfielder at Barcelona. While being a completely different physical build to Andres Iniesta, he actually shares many of the qualities the Catalan had with dribbling and creativity.
In completing 3.1 dribbles per 90, at a 74% success rate, Pogba was one of the most prolific and efficient dribblers from central midfield in Europe last season. He also has the creativity to complement it. While he isn’t as metronomic in his chance creation as the likes of Mesut Özil, he’s capable of executing an expansive range of passes to help cut open opposition teams.
When you add his goal-scoring ability, he is capable of making runs into the box and striking from range, you have the complete attacking central midfielder.
Pogba absolutely has the quality to be one of Barcelona’s best starting players were he to join the club. But where would he fit in the Barcelona system?
Fitting in at Barcelona
One difficulty Pogba has had at Manchester United is in keeping his discipline in a midfield two, though it wasn’t something he struggled with for France during the World Cup, much to the frustration of Jose Mourinho.
Pogba’s emergence at Juventus came in a structured 3-5-2, where Andrea Pirlo offered the passing and Arturo Vidal the energy. In 14/15, during their run to the Champions League final, Juventus played a midfield diamond, which Pogba played on the left off, making him one-quarter of a dominant midfield.
Playing most of his minutes at Manchester United deeper in a 4-2-3-1, Pogba simply hasn’t been given the same licence to drift forward and has had his weaknesses in defending space and tracking runners more readily exposed.
At Barcelona Pogba would presumably still be tasked with playing in a midfield two - since Ernesto Valverde has usually opted for a 4-4-2 at shape at Barcelona, and they currently have an abundance of wing options after their last three transfer windows.
Not only did Barcelona line up in more of a 4-4-2 shape last season, they were also less ball dominant than usual. Sure, they still topped the La Liga possession table with 60%, but that was their lowest figure since the pre-Pep Guardiola days, and they relied a lot more on compactness out of possession for their defensive prowess.
With that in mind, Pogba may be less suited to the current Barcelona than he would have in the previous iteration under Luis Enrique.
The left interior role occupied by the now vacant Andres Iniesta over the last decade would’ve suited him perfectly, but with Coutinho capable of playing that role, and Valverde opting for a two-man midfield, it’s a less obvious fit than it otherwise would have been.
Coutinho's transfer is a particular stumble block for a potential Pogba to Barcelona move. He is another player in the Pogba mould, who can dribble, shoot from range and create for teammates. They could play in the same side, but it makes Pogba playing deeper even more certain.
Of course, Barcelona still dominates teams more than Mourinho’s United have done. As a result, Pogba’s on-ball strengths would be highlighted more, and his off-ball failures exposed less. But when it comes to the big matches in the league and Champions League, playing him in a two could become a problem.
Pogba definitely has the quality to play for Barcelona, whether it be next season or further in the future. But perhaps the current Barcelona, which focuses more on off-ball structure than any other Barcelona side in the Messi era, wouldn’t suit Pogba’s game quite as much as a typical Barcelona team would.
Having said that, a move to Catalonia would probably have more benefits than negatives for the Frenchman, and would likely suit him more than Mourinho’s current United side.