Paul Pogba has shown Manchester United need a formation change
Paul Pogba was man of the match for France against Germany and his best form at Man United merits a formation change.
Eric Cantona dubbed Didier Deschamps the 'water carrier' when they were teammates and as a coach the former France captain moulds players in his image, regardless of their position.
France are the most imposing and imperious side at the European Championship yet needed an own goal to overcome a Germany side stagnating under Joachim Low. France had two goals chalked off by the linesman but their performance was needlessly methodical.
Euro group openers are now devoid of jeopardy under the 24-team format. Coaches can operate via trial and error across all three games and still qualify for the knockout stage. Portugal did not win any of their group matches en route to lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in Paris five years ago.
Even with a flappable goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, France could win every game 1-0 and never be under the cosh. Raphael Varane was a rock, the full-backs are the best pair in international football and N'Golo Kante's heat map was a pitch-wide bonfire.
Lucas Hernandez claimed the assist for Mats Hummels's flat-footed decider but Paul Pogba made it. Hernandez was not in the picture when Pogba clipped the ball to the daring left-back.
Initially, it appeared the pass was intended for Kylian Mbappe and Pogba had overhit it but it was deliberate. Pogba ought to have made a second goal but was a split-second slow in releasing Mbappe to square to Karim Benzema.
Pogba collected the man of the match award in a game that had Mbappe, Benzema, Kante, Varane, Kroos, Gundogan, Neuer, and Kimmich starting. The impulsive narrative from the uninitiated - specifically, Jermaine Jenas - was that Pogba 'looks way more engaged and intense' for France.
The truth is his form this calendar year has been impressive, tempered by his club manager illogically relocating Pogba for the Europa League final. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not solely accountable for Pogba skulking in Scott McTominay's shadow but even Pogba appeared astonished to be substituted with a penalty shootout looming.
With the French cockerel on his chest, Pogba was cocksure, oozing silk and steel. He danced away from Toni Kroos with one feint and showed bite with a robust challenge. Antonio Rudiger had a nibble on Pogba's back. Four of Pogba's dribbles were interrupted by fouls.
Reassuringly for purists, Pogba's passing accuracy was at its lowest in over two months and he still generated rave reviews. At the post-match press conference for the man of the match, Pogba removed an alcoholic drink and that was the only time all night he lacked (a) bottle.
On the eve of the match, Pogba outlined his aim to tally 15 goals next season. It remains to be seen in which league he has set that target for and figures in his inner circle are adamant he will not sign a new contract with Manchester United.
Pogba's closest teammates in Manchester have been of the opinion he should be allowed to leave as it is in the player's and the club's best interests. Yet Pogba, his wife Zulay, and their two young sons are settled in Cheshire and content if they are to remain in England for another year.
United would be more than content. Pogba's professionalism in-house has been lauded by figures at Carrington and the players remain buoyed by his presence. Pogba has never addressed Mino Raiola's comments and dedicated correspondents have not been allowed to ask him on behalf of paying supporters for over two years. That has been a mistake.
Rights holders pay billions for access to footballers yet have not posed essential questions of Pogba. He should have addressed Raiola's last outburst - uttered on the eve of United's Champions League eliminator - but silence is golden.
For now, there is no noise around Pogba. Deschamps insulates France's players by preventing agents from accessing their bases during tournaments. United, in contrast, welcomed Raiola to their Hertfordshire hotel the night before the FA Cup final in 2018.
Given the likelihood of France progressing to the latter stages of the European Championship, Pogba may not touch down in Manchester until August. The Premier League start date of the 14th is a blessing for United after a 34-day gap between seasons last year. This year, there are 80 days between Villarreal and Leeds.
There is already talk of Solskjaer presiding over a formation change and it is essential if he is to accommodate Pogba, who stated his case at the Allianz Arena in a 4-3-3.
Pogba has played influentially in a two for United - notably alongside Nemanja Matic - yet reached world-class heights as an attacking midfielder, be it from a midfield three or off the left in a 4-2-3-1. He was inhibited when Solskjaer switched to a midfield axis at the start of 2019-20.
Should United sign Jadon Sancho, three of their front four places are nailed down with Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes their world-class striker and playmaker. There are a plethora of natural wingers on the left but Pogba is the most effective.
Solskjaer may suffer an identity crisis if he benches both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, mercurial wingers he has handled with kid gloves. Daniel James shone for Wales in Baku on Saturday but is small-fry.
The compromise would be to switch to a 4-3-3, with Rashford or Martial on the left and Pogba and Fernandes the two 10s in front of a specialist holding midfielder.
"Paul's never going to be a world-class left winger, is he?" Owen Hargreaves told the MEN . " He's good off there, he's effective off there, but then it puts a lot of pressure on Luke [Shaw] to get on the overlap and that means, defensively, he's not there at times.
"So I think if you can find a way to get Paul and Bruno centrally, a bit like City - almost two 10s - and then that defensive guard be an absolute machine in there, then all of a sudden you can go toe-to-toe with a lot of really great teams."