Comment - Lay off Paul Pogba, the difference between great and mediocre has been Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ahead of this season's Premier League campaign, Manchester United were looked upon in fear once again. A world record signing along with a world class manager, Jose meant business, or so we thought.
Results are everything in football, after all, it's a results based business. You can play beautiful football, but if a rough and tumble style of football can overcome your footballing masterpiece, then perhaps it's not the masterpiece you once thought it was and that's been the story of most of United's season as of yet. Whether it's Mark Clattenburg, Tom Heaton or Olivier Giroud, there's always one more red-light on Jose Mourinho's road to success as United manager.
There have been positives, though - Spanish duo Juan Mata and Ander Herrera's exquisite form have resulted in the pair becoming undroppable and Ivorian Eric Bailly's rise to the fore meant the centre-back drew comparisons with United greats such as Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
However, United's failure to pick-up points this season has overshadowed Frenchman Paul Pogba's performances completely. The 23-year-old has created 21 chances in the Premier League for the Red Devils this season, scoring two of his own, and Pogba's performances in a United shirt this season have been exactly what the club were crying out for while under the reign of both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
In the central midfield role, many have tried and many have failed. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini have all resorted to another position or even worse, to the bench. The perfect mix in midfield has been hard to find at Old Trafford in recent times but through Michael Carrick, Pogba, and Herrera, they looked to have found it. United's problem this season has been in the goals department. The incapability to kill games off has come back to bite them against both Stoke City and Arsenal this season, whereas against Burnley, despite Heaton's heroics, they couldn't find a way past the goalkeeper and again, dropped two valuable points at home.
Pogba has been the centre of attention ever since his return to United this season, which is to be expected when you carry the world's most expensive player tag on your shoulders, but the public's perception of his performances in red is far from the correct one. The former Juventus midfielder has an 86% pass completion rate and out of 669 passes, 75% were forward passes. In Van Gaal's era at the club, the Dutchman's most heavy criticism was the 'boring' style of football United played, something that was not in the clubs DNA. Sideways passes were followed by backward passes, and the need for a creative midfielder was never higher.
Pogba has added that in abundance and if ego-maniac Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been on form, both against Stoke and Burnley, Pogba could have been just short of an assist count in double figures. The eagerness of Pogba when carrying United forward has been sorely missed in recent seasons, and the strength Pogba possesses has resulted in him driving United forward time and time again, relieving pressure off of the back four and getting United out of danger - something the stats don't show you.
When United landed Pogba's signature, the player was on holiday after a long Euro 2016 campaign, meaning Pogba had no pre-season under his belt, forcing United and Mourinho to experiment with their number 6 in Premier League games. Up until recently, Mourinho hadn't cracked the mystery of who would partner his £89m addition, but now he has, Pogba has been given a new lease of life and is able to be less concerned about his defensive responsibilities due to Carrick's stability in holding midfield, shown as he bagged a wonder goal at the Liberty Stadium in United's 3-1 win before the international break.
In Saturday's draw against Arsenal, international team-mate Oliver Giroud's late goal wiped clean the inbound praise Pogba was about to receive for his controlling midfield display, showing again how United's fragilities have overshadowed their star man's performances. Something that is commonly forgotten about Pogba is that he is 23 years of age, and with years left of development inside him, judging him and his price tag while in his first season in the Premier League is something that may come back to bite you.
When looking at United's position in the league, perhaps it's easy to think a crisis is on the cards, but the question that should perhaps be asked is if Van Gaal had control of this team, what situation would they be in? Excluding Chelsea's whitewash of Mourinho's men, United have been playing some enticing football under Mourinho, something that never occurred under former boss Van Gaal.
United's squad depth has meant last season’s wonder Anthony Martial has been pushed down the pecking order, and now Mourinho has seen an honest assessment of his players, the Portuguese boss will have an idea who fits within his plan and who does not, meaning in the near-future, Mourinho's side will be full of players who want to play for him and for the club. Going on performances by United this season, it's not a matter of 'if it comes together', it's 'when'.
Independent News Service