Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville has admitted that he feared the worst for his former side when he heard that £89 million midfielder Paul Pogba would miss the Manchester Derby through injury.
United would slip to a 3-1 defeat after being completely outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s superb Man City side on Sunday, all but ending any faint hopes their fans had of somehow forcing their way into the Premier League title race.
Jose Mourinho selected a midfield trio of Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, and Nemanja Matic who were all left chasing shadows for most of the afternoon, as well as being found lacking in terms of quality distribution when in possession.
Neville believes that for all his critics France international Pogba was sorely missed for his ability to pick out United’s forward players and break the lines.
“When I got here this morning and I learned that Paul Pogba had not travelled to the team hotel, I feared the worst,” Neville said on the Gary Neville Podcast.
“Pogba comes under a lot of scrutiny when he’s playing but he should come under a lot of scrutiny when he’s not playing.
“What you saw from United in central midfield was nowhere near good enough – we knew it was going to happen before the game.
“They can’t transfer the ball from back to front with any quality. With respect to Matic, Herrera and Fellaini, that’s not their qualities, that’s not what they do.
“But United can’t be in a position having spent all the money that they’ve spent to have a midfield that can’t pass the ball in what would be an acceptable way.
“You can have one player who is maybe lacking a bit in quality – you can’t have three in the same midfield. You don’t get the quality of the pass into the front three.
“Pogba not playing today was a massive blow. He didn’t play in the game at Old Trafford and it was a non-event.
“He came here, Pogba, and played in a United team similar to the team today and he was the difference in the second half.
“I do think United with Pogba in the second half in that 20 minute where City were a little bit nervous would have made a difference.
“What he does have, for all people can say about his faults, he has guts and courage and takes the ball in the final third.
“He has the arrogance to think he can play in any stadium in the world, in any atmosphere, with any pressure on him – and deliver. That’s a massive quality that should never be underestimated.
“You can argue he doesn’t know the position in a two, loses his discipline – but what we know is he can change a game, his penetrating runs, his ability to run into the box, to find a pass, he was a big miss.”