Paul Pogba entered the 2018-19 Premier League season with a lot to prove. Despite winning the World Cup with France over the summer, a tournament in which he was praised for his play while being overshadowed by teammates, Pogba had failed to be the player most Manchester United supporters expected when he arrived from Juventus.
Pogba had soared to great heights at Juventus alongside a midfield consisting of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio, and Andrea Pirlo, three world-class midfielders at the time. Pogba never had to be the goal scorer nor the creative hub of the side. He just had to be a midfielder who contributed to the cause. Now, in his third year at Manchester United, it is easy to see the Frenchman hasn’t moved into the elite realm most believed he would.
Paul Pogba by the numbers
Manchester United have played 16 Premier League matches and five Champions League fixtures this term. The Red Devils sit sixth, 14 points behind league leaders Liverpool. The two longtime rivals will play on Sunday with Manchester United once again aiming to knock Liverpool off their perch.
Pogba may feature in the Red Devils’ squad barring any unforeseen injury against Valencia in midweek. Mourinho has long spoken about Pogba being a defensive liability, however. Liverpool’s flowing attack could influence the manager to sit Pogba and deploy a rigid midfield three or four to slow down the Reds. Pogba averages just one tackle and 0.4 interceptions per Premier League match, according to WhoScored.com.
Despite his defensive frailties, Pogba’s offensive presence warrants him a place in the side, right? The Frenchman has scored three league goals, but two of which have come from the penalty spot. A third penalty, taken against Everton in October, was missed but Pogba was able to tap in the rebound. It is his only Premier League goal scored from open play, yet it came from a penalty he missed.
Paul Pogba: Average, Good, or Great?
Critics of Pogba have labelled him a ‘YouTube footballer’ or ‘video game footballer’ due to the popularity that has surrounded him since his youth team days at Manchester United. Yet, the Frenchman does have his supporters. Former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville picked Pogba, and even Manchester United centre-back Eric Bailly, in a combined XI with Sunday’s opponents Liverpool players. Neville selected Pogba as a holding midfielder, a position the Frenchman is incapable of playing. The selection as panned by other pundits as Neville seems to have spent more time watching Salford City than Manchester United games.
Mourinho has tried to turn Pogba into a midfielder capable of anchoring the side. However, even the manager knows Pogba’s weaknesses when asked to be the main man in midfield. Mourinho dropped Pogba against Arsenal in the Red Devils 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. Pogba played the final 15 minutes against Arsenal and had little impact on the game. His time on the pitch was also a time the Gunners had the greater chances of snatching a late win.
Pogba’s play and Mourinho’s lack of confidence doesn’t bode well for the midfielder starting against Liverpool. If he does, Manchester United may lose much of the defensive vigour it would gain otherwise.