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Manchester United 2018-19 Player Reviews: Paul Pogba

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Let’s call it “Mixed Reception”

FC Barcelona v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Paul Pogba was Manchester United’s statistical leader in goals and assists for all competitions in 2018/19 with 16 goals and 11 assists. On paper it looks like a great season for him, but if your top scorer is your central midfielder chances are it wasn’t a great season. That’s about how the season went for Pogba and the Reds, with the former attracting much of the blame it seems for the overall performance of the team. It does seem a bit unfair to put those expectations on a midfielder, who actually played up to them at times, but his inconsistency continued to hurt him and his team.

Pogba’s habit of disappearing in big games continued, but when he did show up he directly influenced the match. Wins over Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea in United’s winning streak under Solskjaer demonstrated just how deadly Pogba can be when he takes over in midfield and creates chances galore for himself and his teammates. Of course that would have been useful against Barcelona, Manchester City, and Chelsea later in the season as well.

Rumours of Pogba’s potential exit have been bouncing around ever since he dared to suggest United try and score goals to win matches (what an insane concept), but now it seems real. United missed out on the Champions League, Zidane is back in Madrid, and there is no clear picture of where he and the club currently stand. It’ll be interesting to see what pans out, but if he wants to stay United should be happy to oblige. Pogba is a world class midfielder who has taken the brunt of the blame for United’s problems since the moment he returned, and yet still takes carries himself with confidence and puts out performances. Maybe try pairing him with other great midfielders before giving up and starting over again. CD

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Paul Pogba’s 2018-19 season followed similar parallels as my high school career. The midfielder frustrated coaches that knew he was better than the product he put out on the field. Furthermore, his moments of brilliance dazzled millions and made us question why it wasn’t happening more consistently. The string of performances that Pogba put together during Ole’s opening managerial streak was enough to guarantee graduation, but his first and third parts of the season brought his grade down to a C.

Pogba led Manchester United in the major offensive categories including a team-high 13 goals and nine assists, but it feels like empty calories when seven of his 13 goals came from the penalty spot. His output in the midfield paled in comparison to his emphasis in the attack as he was dispossessed the sixth most of any Premier League player while finishing outside the top 10 in passes, touches, through balls and tackles. His rankings improve to the top 5 when you rank him amongst midfielders in several of those aforementioned categories, but, of course, as the most expensive player on the field at all times — the PSG match excluded — he is graded to a higher standard.

Ultimately, every time Pogba bombed a long ball from the wings or behind the midfield line to the waiting feet of a wide-open forward player — like it was Aaron Rodgers throwing a 50 yard Hail Mary — we saw why the Frenchman required such a high transfer fee and why he was the guy that Manchester United needed to build its future around. However, with the air of inconsistency that hangs over every instance that Pogba jogged back on defense at a speed that was more akin to walking, we’re left wondering if a nine-figure transfer fee from the likes of a Real Madrid is the better financial and football decision for the Red Devils. Let us hope that a full summer of training in Ole’s system, without the shine of a recent World Cup win, will allow Pogba to refocus, recalibrate and find his form. NH

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

When has a player divided the Manchester United fan base like Pogba? The Frenchman has outed the dreamers as opposed to the realists, the ones who want the Frenchman to make it work at Old Trafford as opposed to those who see that it is desperately not happening. His Old Trafford career has been a mixture of sublime and disappointing, commanding and irresponsible. Supporters have seen the best of Pogba albeit in glimpses and cling to these moments desperately, hoping that an improvement is around the corner.

In his first two seasons, Paul Pogba scored 15 goals in 88 appearances at Old Trafford. The ‘first two seasons’ comparison is utilised as over the same length of time, back in 2001, Juan Veron scored eleven goals in eighty-two appearances. Veron is perceived as one of Manchester United’s all time transfer flops, but has Pogba been any better?

Pogba’s defenders would point to the dominant displays at the Etihad in April 2018 or his assists against Leicester and Tottenham in early 2019; but to say that Veron’s Manchester United career was a complete failure is an oversimplification. Veron had his excellent games for United, notably against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in 2001, along with his Champions League performances that same season. It was later that his career nosedived.

Has Pogba’s career at Manchester United really been any better? 2018-2019 certainly yielded more goals and assists for the Frenchman but he has the problem of being an artistic, almost luxury player in a team that lacks the basic fundamentals of football. Pogba is the would-be Renaissance painter among a group of colouring book enthusiasts.

Pogba is despised and damned for his inability to rescue Manchester United, his failure to galvanise a failing team and the very fact that he is not Roy Keane. There is no doubt that Paul Pogba needs to work harder at Manchester United, but he is not helped by supporters’ incorrect belief that he could do this by himself. It is clear his love affair with United – if ever there was one – is long over and it might be time to move on.

The misunderstood Frenchman will surely have a better post-Manchester United career than Juan Sebastian Veron but the comparison is apt. Both were parachuted into defensively frail Manchester United teams without a true vision for what their role would be. In Veron’s case, he was brought into to dominate an already domineering midfield. Pogba was signed to answer the broad ‘midfield dilemma’ that had afflicted United since Paul Scholes retired for the first time.

Like Veron before him, Paul Pogba has had produced of exquisite football, demonstrating outrageous talent and mastery of the game of football but sadly Manchester United and the English Premier League might not be the best arena to consistently get the best out of him. AB