In our focus on the battle for the top four, Adrian Clarke looks at the key tactics for the four clubs fighting for only two places.
Successive defeats in the Premier League and FA Cup have slowed down Man Utd’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But the Red Devils still have a great chance of ending 2018/19 in the top four.
For that to happen, though, their key man between now and the end of the campaign has to be Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman’s spectacular uplift in form kick-started a run of form in which United went 12 matches unbeaten in the Premier League with Solskjaer as caretaker manager.
Pogba was the driving force as he provided at least one goal or assist in eight of those 10 wins and two draws.
But across the last four league matches it has been a different story.
Failing to score and laying on only one assist, United’s talisman has performed below par as Solskjaer’s side picked up seven points from that spell and had their unbeaten run ended at Arsenal.
Seeing less of the ball, his influence has waned. As shown in the table below, Pogba’s creativity and goal threat have both dropped off markedly.
Pogba’s downturn may be partly caused by a dip in energy levels.
During the early period of Solskjaer’s spell in charge, he was an all-action midfielder eager to get on the ball at every opportunity.
Of late that liveliness appears to have waned, and there is evidence to back up this theory.
Over the last four matches, Pogba’s average distance covered has been 10.1km.
To put that into context, the midfielder only dipped below 10.3km only once in his first nine appearances under Solskjaer, at Fulham, when he was substituted with 16 minutes left.
Solskjaer built his side around Pogba when he took over from Jose Mourinho.
Since, the Norwegian has asked Pogba for a touch more discipline.
Last time out Pogba struggled for impact on the left of a standard 4-4-2 at Arsenal.
Before then, in seven of the previous eight Premier League matches the Frenchman had been used on the left of a narrow midfield trio.
In the occasion, at Crystal Palace, he took up a position on the right of a three.
Initially he was outstanding in that orthodox box-to-box role, dominating matches and frequently getting himself into scoring positions.
Of late he has been far less influential.
Does Pogba need a return to that pivotal, more attack-minded position?
Returning the 26-year-old to that exciting free role may inject fresh impetus into United's season at a crucial time.
Part 1: Race for top four: Tottenham Hotspur
Part 2: Race for top four: Kane alone can revive Spurs
Part 3: Race for top four: Arsenal
Part 4: Race for top four: Emery must pair up Aubameyang
Part 7: Race for top four: Chelsea
Part 8: Race for top four: Sarri must ease away pain