Thursday 23 February 2017

No matter what way you look at Paul Pogba's Man United return, it has been a disappointment

Tom Rooney

Published 04/10/2016 | 20:42

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

After a decidedly forgettable start to his second stint at Manchester United, Paul Pogba has shown tentative signs of the sort of influence he may come to exert in their once formidable engine room, but as we head into the season’s latest international break, the statistics are unlikely to make for pleasant reading for the most expensive player on the planet.

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Firstly, it would be remiss not to mention the fact that Paul Pogba did not ask Manchester United to pay €105m for his services, so deriding his performances based on a fee decided upon by two clubs at the forefront of football’s bloated economics is essentially meaningless.

The gripe should be with Juventus and United and, indeed, Pogba’s wily agent Mino Raiola. Now, with that being said, the Frenchman can be judged in relation to the output of his contemporaries, many of whom are not surrounded by players and coaches even close to the same calibre as those he is.

Pogba’s lacklustre beginning to the season was attributed to many factors. Some said he just wasn’t that great to begin with, others blamed Jose Mourinho for playing him out of position and, for that matter, selecting Marouane Fellaini in the same midfield.

There is no doubt that Pogba’s most recent performances in the Premier League, during the win over Leicester and Sunday’s draw with Stoke, he has shown a marked upturn in form.

Pairing Pogba with the industrious Ander Herrera, while opting for Juan Mata in the No.10 role at the expense of Wayne Rooney, has improved both him and the balance of the entire team.

One other aspect that might be worth mentioning is that during his four seasons at Juventus, Pogba comprised a midfield with the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Sami Khedira. 

With all due respect to Herrera, Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin, the gulf in class is astronomical.

While in Italy, Pogba was never put in a position where he was being asked to either anchor or set the tempo of a team and, when considering his relatively meagre years, the immediate change in stature could well be unsettling.

However, when you look at the more standard criteria one would measure a midfielder of Pogba’s thrusting dynamism against, the statistics do not paint a pretty picture.

Pogba has thus far scored one goal in the Premier League, while the likes of Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Leroy Fer (Swansea), Santi Cazorla, Joe Allen (Stoke) and Gareth Barry (Everton) all registered at least one more.

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Pogba has yet to provide an assist of any kind for United. The league is led in assists by Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne with 4.

Burnley’s Steven Defour, who they bought for roughly €9.5m this summer, has three, while the likes of Ireland’s Harry Arter, Chadli and Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing have each contributed two.

Like Defour, Arsenal’s 20-year-old gem Alex Iwobi has also conjured a trio of direct assists.

An area where Pogba forces his way in amongst the upper end of the numbers game is passing. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson has made 589 passes to Pogba’s 427, which leaves him seven places lower.

Pogba has had 21 attempts on goal in his six league games to date, but just five have been on target.

Given he started four league games in a deeper role, Pogba’s 13 tackles are fairly paltry – less than two per game.

That Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend has made eight more, and so too Arter,  it becomes a little clearer just how insipid Pogba was upon his arrival.

Of the five he’s hit, not one of Pogba’s crosses have reached an intended target.

His ability to switch play with a spraying ball has often been lauded, and he has hit 26 accurate long balls, which is 15 less than Henderson, but more than Cazorla or Allen.

Finally, we look at successful through balls, of which Pogba has dispatched four. Alexis Sanchez leads the league on 13, with David Silva in second on 9.

Philippe Coutinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Dusan Tadic , Fernandinho have all completed six. Pogba is on level terms with compatriot Dimitri Payet and Arsenal duo Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka.

What all of this amounts to is difficult to exactly establish so early in what promises to be a pulsating season, but if we were playing fantasy football or Moneyball, Pogba would not be the most wanted of commodities.

All statistics were taken from PremierLeague.com

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