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After his £89 million move to Manchester United, a lot was expected of Paul Pogba. Although the Frenchman demonstrated glimpses of his talent during his first season, the second would see a change from functional to sensational.

In United’s first 4 games, Pogba showed off his ability to dictate and create. He facilitated the transition from defence to attack, using his vision, awareness and technique. Pogba managed 2 goals, 2 assists and lifted United to the top of the league. However, Pogba’s hamstring injury in the Champions League against FC Basel, saw the team’s performances suffer.

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United without Pogba

The side’s form continued for the remainder of the month, with Maroune Fellaini filling in admirably. However, an eventual goalless draw versus North West rivals Liverpool, saw United’s standing begin to change. This was to be thematic over the remainder of the month, with the Manchester club lacking in creativity and fire power. With a lack of ingenuity in central midfield and a shortage of goals in attack, fans could not be blamed for voicing their discontent.

Goal droughts for strikers Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford, as well as Henrikh Mkhitaryan becoming a hinderance rather than a threat, led to United dropping 8 points behind the leaders Manchester City. In the 7 league games that Pogba missed, United scored 11 goals – one goal less than the 4 league games that he did feature.

How did Pogba fair on his return?

When the starting 11 was released for the match versus Newcastle United, many were surprised by the inclusion of Pogba. Initially during the game a lack of match rhythm seemed evident. United failed to control the opening 30 minutes and Newcastle struck first. However, Pogba’s ability to beat a man and dictate the tempo of a game, eventually began to take effect. Not only was the 24 year old a constant threat throughout the game, his goal and assist contributed to two of United’s four goals. Pogba’s flair and eye for the spectacular was back, and the scoreline reflected this.

The return of creativity

A defining feature of Pogba’s game is his vision and ability in possession. The playmaker completed most key passes (2) and dribbles (3) of any player on the pitch, with a combination of the two leading to United’s equaliser. Pogba used his quick feet to burst past the onlooking Isaac Hayden before delivering a fine ball into the box for Martial to head home.

Pogba rounded off his impressive display with a 53rd minute goal, after a perfectly weighted back post knock down by Rashford. Pogba even had chance to celebrate as a fan, when his long time friend Romelu Luakaku netted United’s fourth of the game. Pogba left the field on the 69th minute to a standing ovation, showing just how much the supporters missed their flamboyant superstar

Missing elements

Despite Pogba’s heavy influence in United’s comeback, there were some frailties in his performance. His defensive naivety during opposition attacks left his defenders exposed on more than one occasion. His awareness when out of possession was poor and allowed the Magpies to drift into the spaces behind him.

DeAndre Yedlin’s low driven cross found Dwight Gayle’s late run into the box behind the French midfielder. Ultimately, the lack of defensive concentration led to United conceding their first goal at home in the league this season. Pogba’s defensive stats were also poor – 0 tackles won, 0 interceptions made, 0 shots blocked and 3 fouls committed.

Although Pogba performed well with his passing work, he was actually statistically behind his averages in the league this season – 85.5% average pass accuracy and 74.6 average passes per game. While he performed well on his long awaited return, Pogba is yet to be back at his best.

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Mourinho stated after the match that Paul Pogba is a “different class” and that he and Matic are “the engine of the team”. This seems to be a statement which could be very true come the end of the season. However, Pogba certainly needs to rebuild his form – if only in a defensive sense – for this to happen. The talismanic midfielder could provide United with a chance of closing the gap between themselves and City. But with the flying form of Pep Guardiola’s side, it will require him to improve his all round game in both attack and defence.

Jonathan Russell – Trigger The Press

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