Paul Pogba’s injury still smarts three days later. “FFS” rarely felt more appropriate at the time. If we must look at the fixtures, the only positive is the manager can freely go full Mourinho at Anfield in a month, and worst case also Stamford Bridge early November. Manchester United’s squad should cope with the other fixtures, but that may be taking Pogba for granted.
United’s midfield had finally felt like it was improving at another level, and much of that is down to Pogba. Nemanja Matić is a smart, crucial addition and helps whoever’s around him – he probably now tops the list of players to avoid injury. The frustration of not being able to enjoy Pogba and relish the midfield again is maddening so early on in the season, but the squad has depth even in this position of recent poverty.
Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick can all contribute whether in a two or three, preferably not all at the same time. José Mourinho sensibly, if not correctly, deployed three for Stoke away last weekend with mixed results; a timely reminder when the temptation to recede at the cost of the attack will be strong, and should only be expected for United’s next three away games. A black hole of creativity needs to be filled regardless. Herrera has suddenly found himself having more to prove than Fellaini – how Herrera’s contribution goes will be important not only for the team in the interim, but also the player’s standing.
Competition in the squad is very strong and, more or less, in every position there is a genuine alternative. Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial is a doozy. United are well placed to rotate and cope with absentees, whether that stretches to Pogba for an extended period remains to be seen. Pogba’s presence gives the whole team, not just midfield, a lift – a bona fide Rolls-Royce of a player dragging others up to his level with an innumerable number of technical and physical assets. A future United captain in the making, Pogba is irreplaceable.
If Andreas Pereira’s decision to instead play in Spain frustrated Mourinho beforehand, his mood won’t have improved. Nevertheless, barring further personnel disasters, the manager should have enough to work with to maintain their good start navigating the next month or so without Pogba, then to January and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Marcos Rojo’s return in due course a boon to options, too.
The worry – and Mourinho does look vexed – is that United are not necessarily understaffed or short of quality in the squad, but rather they are collectively still fragile without their best player. Heads can drop quickly if performances regress and United are in a key period of improvement right now. It’s imperative that the small amount of momentum is preserved in Pogba’s absence, particularly at home, if the season is to be a success.
“We miss Pogba, we need Pogba but we have good players,” Mourinho reinforced today. Good luck, boss. We go again.