Manchester United welcome back former manager David Moyes to Old Trafford since his departure from the club as they host Sunderland in the Boxing Day Premier League fixture. United were riding the high of three consecutive league wins, relaunching their bid to land amongst the Champions League qualification places. Matteo Darmian and an injured Wayne Rooney were taken off the starting XI in favour of Daley Blind and Juan Mata, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan returning to the bench following his injury lay-off.
United may have wanted a more dominant first half. While they were generally on top of things, Sunderland still had too much of the ball and forced David De Gea into action more times than expected. Still, it was United who broke the deadlock, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic laid the ball off for Blind to score with a tidy finish into the far bottom corner.
United tried keeping up the pressure in the second half but were waning until Mkhitaryan was subbed on. His substitution kicked United into high gear, and they got their second before too long. Paul Pogba won the ball in midfield before taking it forward and setting up Ibrahimovic for United’s second. Ibrahimovic turned creator again not long after, putting in a delightful cross for Mkhitaryan’s amazing scorpion kick effort. Sunderland would then manage to bag a consolation through Fabio Borini, but by then the damage had been done.
It’s impossible for Ibrahimovic to not be up for this, with his goal and two assists, but in truth, he wasn’t overall the best player on the pitch despite that. He gave away the ball and failed to do enough with good chances, and wasn’t a consistent enough threat throughout the game, which means that, for this particular game, he can’t be the best player on the pitch.
With most teams, Ibrahimovic’s goals contributions would’ve been enough, but up against the midfield masterclass that Pogba put in, it pales in comparison. Where to start with him?
His pressing was very useful for United, exemplified in his role in United’s second. His passing range was also incredible, unlike any others. The unpredictability this brings was hell for Sunderland, switching between safe, possession-keeping passes, piercing through balls and long diagonals without warning, and executed well.
His adventurous nature would’ve been detrimental to most players, but most players aren’t Paul Pogba. He can drift wide and drive forward, moving United into an attack, and supporting the attack, doing it well enough to not destabilise the midfield. He’d turn defence into attack just by carrying the ball forward.
With excellent support from midfield teammates Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick, Pogba took control of the midfield, giving the platform United need to push forward and get their goals. Pogba also had the chance to score a couple himself, a curling shot that rattled the post being the biggest one, but without any goals, his performance was definitely Man of the Match material.