Talk is cheap, and the Manchester Derby showed it.
Paul Pogba produced a stunning second half showing (following a first half that totally passed him by) to help stop Manchester City from making remarkable history. He certainly didn’t let Pep Guardiola’s comments get under his skin. A brace of sleek goals, a decisive display in the middle of park and some confident midfield enforcer passion reminiscent of Manchester United legend Bryan Robson showed why he simply cannot he doubted in any situation. Quite frankly, silenced his critics and his rivals for the night.
After being in and out of the team as of late and (more importantly to some) dying his hair a new colour every so often, the Frenchman racked up tough criticism from journalists, fans and his manager alike – a decent portion of it fair. Rivals love to hate him (it seems) and he is almost the epitome of United at the moment; constantly analysed by the world of football, week-in, week-out, in hope of finding the slightest bad thing. Despite already proving himself to be good enough at this level countless times over the few years following his departure from Old Trafford.
There’s certainly cause for concern at times with Pogba and this season things have turned pretty sour. His club manager has distanced himself from him in press conferences, and it led his national team manager, Didier Deschamps appears to have smeared Mourinho about the state of confidence Pogba had whilst on International break. For a while in March when he was out of the side, Pogba kept quiet on social media and the pitch as he lacked impact other than glimpses (epitomised by his displays in both legs of the Champions League round of 16 which were dreadful for his standards). Even when the out-of-contention Pogba burst into an interview with Mourinho following the victory over Liverpool and all seemed well, the gaffer told the press to “ask him” when asked about his then recent form which worried reds around the world.
Media speculation ensued and the likelihood of both Mourinho and Pogba being at the club beyond the summer came into question – something no one would have predicted this time last year. Although, stray passes and hopeless efforts in pretty straightforward circumstances began to make opposition fans laugh at the idea that he was worth £90m – the same price as 25 goal teammate Romelu Lukaku and £40m rival Mohamed Salah who has been sensational unlike Pogba in his initial season returning to England. The inevitable complaints about his off the pitch life and whatever hair colour he chooses for each fortnight rose up again. However, last season statistics were used against Pogba when he wasn’t up to scratch but this campaign pundits (on the whole) failed to notice that he had racked up 3 goals (now 5) and 9 assists prior to the Derby in just 20 games (now 21) as a result of his significant injury from September to November, from a fairly deep playing position compared to his adversaries in the leaderboards.
In reality, the positives of Pogba definitely out-way the negatives. The aforementioned 5 goals and 9 assists in 21 games are impressive as the 25 year-old is a box-to-box midfielder most of the time. When the season started he was dominating games by spraying balls all over the park, surging past sides with the ball at his feet and finishing chances meant Pogba gained his reputation as one of the division’s best players at the time. Some overlooked the Frenchman but it was clear he was the driving force.
So when he was out injured, it became obvious that United were severely lacking without him. None of Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay were able to even barely emulate how effective Pogba was alongside Nemanja Matić in a deep pairing and it cost United with poor performances and away defeats to the likes of Huddersfield and Chelsea highlighting the reds’ Pogba-shaped deficiencies. The greatest statistic of all is that he is yet to lose in a Premier League game at the club, perfectly emphasising his impact on his team.
Fans of The Red Devils have debated ever since Pogba joined the club about the position he should play in. In terms of affecting the team as a whole, deploying him in that midfield pairing and going from box-to-box is the way to go as he covers a huge amount of ground and his versatile game can be applied all over the park from start to finish to dominate the opposition (e.g. West Ham United [H] and Newcastle United [H] both this season). However, fans believe his individual performance is better when playing in either a midfield trio as the advanced man with free-reign or as a typical number 10 as naturally he gets goals and assists more often further forward in the system (e.g. Everton [A] and Crystal Palace [A] this season and last season respectively). For his national side, he plays as a deep-lying play-maker which he operates in well but isn’t the stylish man most of football world are used to. Complaints of both Mourinho and Deschamps holding him back have come to light but ultimately time will tell where he should play and be most effective as he could probably do fairly well as a full back or target man due to the fact he is one of the best versatile men around.
With such a presence and status at the club, some wonder if he is destined for the captaincy at times. His innate ability to get the hype going in the dressing room, on the pitch and in the stands whether it be motivational words, is something only some players (even at a club as prestigious as United) can do. Old Trafford has witnessed players weighed down by the armband, such as Wayne Rooney who preferred being a leader with free-reign. Fellow Paul (Scholes) notoriously refused the honour due to him not wanting the responsibility. However, the Frenchman has slipped on the armband numerous times and seemingly relished it. Due to current club Captain Michael Carrick only making two appearances this campaign and retiring at the conclusion of it, the job has been given to Antonio Valencia most of the time. The “silent leader” uses his experience, presence and work rate to lead his teammates therefore Pogba would alter the role completely – but don’t rule it out.
One thing is for sure with Pogba; he will always keep people talking.