Friday 23 August 2019

De Bruyne is the Premier League's best player but Pogba is more important

Belgian not the only pass master in City's ranks but United have nobody to replace Frenchman's strut

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Getty Images

Jack Austin

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in the cases of the two Manchester clubs and their chief playmakers, Kevin De Bruyne and Paul Pogba, that saying does not quite fit.

Top-of-the-table Manchester City are playing to a tune conducted by De Bruyne and have found themselves top of the table as a result, with the Belgian proving unequivocally that he is the best player in the Premier League right now.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Paul Pogba. Photo: PA

During the last eight weeks where De Bruyne has really established himself as player of the season, a brief glance over to the red half of Manchester would have found you a band marching out of time without a rhythm or a beat. No Pogba, no party.

If you looked at the simplest of statistics, the ones which are at the forefront of the minds of Fantasy Football players, Pogba has the same number of goals and half the assists but in seven games fewer. But scratch even a slither past that and it should leave you in no doubt as to De Bruyne's brilliance.

Impossible

This season he has become the master of the 'pass before the pass' or the 'second assist', playing two to three impossible passes in a game that most players would be lucky to make two or three times in their careers.

It is these moments why the likes of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are looking so formidable - all they need do is run and De Bruyne's GPS system will find them.

He could spend the rest of the season quaffing his impossibly blond hair in the centre circle and still be the toast of the PFA awards come May. He's that good - but is he that important?

Yes, he can do things that no one else in Manchester City's squad can do, but he is not their only playmaker, he is not the only one who can find space where there is none and a pass who all else are blind to. Pep Guardiola has the vision of the Silvas, David and Bernardo, who can do that too. He also has the power of Yaya Toure, or the composure of Ilkay Gundogan, or the pace of Sterling and Sane. There is even now the youthful promise of Phil Foden.

A long-term injury to De Bruyne would be disappointing and a bitter pill to swallow - but more so for the player than the team who have the means to cope without him. They have a second, third and fourth choice to cover the 26-year-old.

Manchester United are not so fortunate, they are the Paul Pogba Team, and the last seven weeks has proved as such. Where City have Silva, Silva, Toure, Gundogan et al in De Bruyne's absence, United have used Jesse Lingard, Scott McTominay and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in Pogba's place - but to minimal effect. The Frenchman is that important.

His comeback on Saturday against Newcastle United completely changed the way United played. Hesitation turned to action, doubt turned to swagger and turgidity turned to fluidity. He brings the sort of strut that has been missing from the centre of United's midfield for the best part of a decade.

Manchester United are not so fortunate, they are the Paul Pogba Team, and the last seven weeks has proved as such.

Where City have Silva, Silva, Toure, Gundogan et al in De Bruyne's absence, United have used Jesse Lingard, Scott McTominay and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in Pogba's - but to minimal effect. The Frenchman is that important.

His comeback on Saturday against Newcastle United completely changed the way United played. Hesitation turned to action, doubt turned to swagger and turgidity turned to fluidity. He brings the sort of strut that has been missing from the centre of United's midfield for the best part of a decade.

Brighton can win at Old Trafford - Hughton

Brighton must go to Manchester United with the belief they have earned the right to pull off a shock win, according to manager Chris Hughton.

The Seagulls head to Old Trafford in ninth place following a solid opening to a first campaign back in the top flight for 34 years, which has seen them go unbeaten in the past five matches.

Despite the prospect of coming up against one of the Premier League's most formidable sides at a venue where United have not lost since September 2016, Hughton sees no reason to think his men cannot spring a surprise.

Asked at a press conference if Brighton could "turn over" Jose Mourinho's team, Hughton said: "Of course we can, but we know what we would have to do to do that and there certainly aren't many teams at our level that are going to go there and win.

"You know you have got to play at a very high level and you have certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs.

"But these are the days you have worked so hard for as a team and what you got promotion for and the excitement of going to this type of stadium.

"There is no doubt we all know what Manchester United means, the stadium, the club and the history, but it is certainly a nicer place if you have come away from there and given a decent account of yourself - it is certainly not the best of places if you don't."

Brighton have never won at Old Trafford, but Hughton is not about to let that worry his team.

"You can't go there with fear because if you do then it's inevitable what will happen," he said.

"You have to go there with a belief and a confidence that you can get something."

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