Paul Pogba believes Manchester United stars are no longer “cheating” each other by expecting others to work hard, a change that is propelling their title charge.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will return to the top of the Premier League if they beat Sheffield United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
At this stage of 2019-20, the Red Devils were eighth in the table and 24 points behind leaders Liverpool, but they have gained an extra 12 points from the same number of games this term.
Pogba has been key to their recent run of 10 wins and three draws from their past 13 Premier League matches, having recovered form and fitness following time out with coronavirus.
Since December, he is in the top three United players for completed passes, tackles, interceptions, dribbles completed and goals, while he has won back possession 67 times, more than any team-mate.
It is that level of hard work without the ball that has been crucial to United’s improved performances under Solskjaer, according to the 2018 World Cup winner.
2015 – Paul Pogba has scored a league goal from outside the penalty area with his left foot for the first time since January 2015 for Juventus vs Chievo in Serie A. Corker. pic.twitter.com/n3oakH2j0Q
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2021
When asked by former United star Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport what has changed within the squad, Pogba said: “I would say the mentality. We play more as a team, defending much better, pressing much better together.
“No one is cheating. What I mean is no one is running less, or not making the effort to come back.”
Asked if that was a problem previously, he said: “I think yes, it’s always been a problem. When you’re all together, it’s always going to be easier. If someone is making less effort, it’s going to be a little problem for the team.
“When we’re all together, we have the same mentality, we work hard, it’s better and you see the results.”
Pogba is now determined for United to deliver on their promising run of results and end a trophy drought stretching back to 2017, when they won the EFL Cup and Europa League.
The midfielder would be far happier to claim silverware this term by playing an attractive brand of football.
94 – Manchester United have won 94 Premier League matches after conceding the first goal, the most of any side in the competition’s history. Specialists. pic.twitter.com/SaddRIwat2
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2021
“From last year, this year, it’s surprising [to be so close to the top] but we were expecting that, to get closer,” he said. “That’s the goal, it’s the challenge to get there at the top, the level of Manchester City, Liverpool – that’s what we want to do.
“I don’t want to say that we’re here yet, because we’re not. They won trophies; we didn’t. We’re still behind them.
“We have to keep putting in the work and improving. We’ve been doing well. In six months, we want to say the same thing: ‘Man United, they’ve been great this season, the best team in the league’. That’s what we want to hear at the end of the season. We don’t want to hear, ‘oh, they’re playing well, but they didn’t win anything’. We have to keep working as we haven’t won anything yet.
“That’s what we want to do: play well and win trophies. We don’t only want to win trophies and playing ****. We’d still be happy but we’re trying to get back the winning mentality.”
Pogba admits he would rather be playing in a more advanced role but certainly accepts his form has improved through speeding up his use of the ball.
“In this league, I don’t get as much time as I want,” he said. “I like to have touches of the ball and people press me more, the [opposition] team leaves some players on me.
“Now, I just try to play quicker, so I can limit the space behind me, playing more as a team than an individual, even though sometimes I like to hold the ball and pass the player. But it would be better to play one, two-touch and get in the box.
“When I play like that, I see the difference, I won’t lose the ball or anything so I feel more comfortable. It’s good, it helps the team, it helps me, because, mentally, when you lose the ball, some people cannot get on the ball again. Me? You know me. I like to be on the ball.
“I try to play just, to do the right thing at the right time. I think it’s right to play faster.”
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