Paul Pogba’s display during Manchester United’s convincing 4-1 victory over Newcastle on Saturday highlighted exactly what has been missing from the Old Trafford club’s often stodgy and unimaginative performances as of late.
From the first minute of the game it was obvious this United side are a completely different animal with their record signing on the pitch. The Frenchman’s ability to surge past a man in the centre of the park, breaking the lines of the opposition midfield and having the poise to pick the perfect pass to hurt an exposed defence is such a massive asset for any team to have.
Also, returning to Jose Mourinho’s attacking armoury this weekend was the capacity to change the point of the attack in an instant. On several occasions, Pogba pinged 50-60 yard diagonal balls to full-backs Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia when the Newcastle defence had shifted to one side, leaving gaps on the opposite side of the pitch.
Far too often in his absence it would have taken two or three passes across midfield or the backline before the ball landed at the feet of United’s wide men, giving the opposition amble time to get back into position.
For the Red’s equaliser, the 24-year-old jinked past his man out wide and clipped a deliciously weighted cross to the back post for Anthony Martial to head home. It’s safe to say that the Old Trafford club do not have another central midfield player on their books capable of executing such a piece of play. The ex-Juventus star’s third-man run for the all-important third goal easily falls into this bracket aswell.
The stats back it up
For those stat lovers out there, Pogba’s impact on his sides creativity is easily backed up; in the games the midfielder has started this season United have created 14 chances per game, compared with 8 per game in his absence.
It is not just the France international’s obvious talent in terms of skill, pace and power that are so impressive – it is also his ability to inspire and get the most out of others around him.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s reputation for not favouring young players, this is very youthful United side, especially in attacking areas; Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku are all under 25 and Pogba seems to revel in his role as de facto leader of Jose’s young guns.
For all the criticism he receives from older pundits for his love of social media and extravagant hairstyles, the 24-year-old is a brave footballer. Over the years many of us have been conned into thinking that bravery means diving into tackles or sticking your head in where it hurts, but anybody can do that.
Real bravery on a football pitch is having enough belief in yourself to show for the ball and try and make the difference for your team, even when things aren’t going your way. This type of competence is not the kind of thing that can be measured by stats and nor can it be coached, luckily for United however, Pogba has it in spades.
The 24-year-olds performance on Saturday screamed of someone saying “right lads, I know we’re struggling for form lately so just give me the ball and let’s go for it.”
Having said all this it would of course be fanciful to make out that it has been all rose’s since the midfielder’s record-breaking return to Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, and he did frustrate many times last season.
The talented youngster still has plenty of areas of his game that can be improved upon, but what is crystal clear is this Manchester United team have a much better chance of success this season with Pogba pulling the strings in midfield.