Paul Pogba won his first man of the match award in a United shirt as the Red Devils triumphed 4-1 against Premier League Champions Leicester. Pogba scored his first goal in a United shirt, completed the most passes on the pitch, created a couple of major chances that led to goals for United, completed the most passes of any player on the pitch, and, ultimately, completely dominated the pitch and drove United forward. Gary Neville said it was his best performance in a United shirt, though Graeme Souness still wants to see him attack more.
Neville, most notably, lauded Pogba’s defensive work, praising his ability to block shots from set-pieces and bring the ball out of the back. Neville called this game a wake-up call for Pogba, who, in his opinion, had been quite poor in a United shirt before the Leicester game, but he said consistent performances of that calibre would easily justify his hefty fee.
“Pogba was instrumental in that first half. We look at the scrutiny on Wayne Rooney, but a lot of people are saying that for £90m on a central midfield player, you have to influence the game. Today he did.
“The first half he was the best player on the pitch. In the first half, he seemed more determined, like Mourinho had told him to sprint back and win the ball. I think he’s had a bit of a wake-up call in the week. It was an all-round performance. It is the best I’ve seen him.
“If you think about what you want your midfield player to do for £90m, you want him to pass well, come forward, be a threat in the box, be dynamic, sprint back and be a force defensively.”
Neville praised Pogba as one of the rare midfielders who can influence every aspect of a football match, and I couldn’t agree more with this. Pogba isn’t the best midfielder in the world, but he is the best-rounded- good defensively, moving forward, on the ground, in the air, tackling, dribbling, reads the game well. If he continues to show those attributes, he will be successful at United beyond words.
“All the facets of what would be an all-round midfield player, he’s one of those rare midfield players who can do most things, and today we saw a big influence on the game.”
While saying he’s playing well, Souness still believes Pogba can offer a lot more running behind defences to cause havoc. Souness believes the Frenchman can be even more of a threat if he runs in behind, saying that he’d never want to have to defend against Pogba running into the box. He believes Pogba has the individual strength and stamina to be able to run back and recover from that for the entire match, too.
“I think Pogba should be getting in front of the ball a lot of the time, making runs into the box. He looks like he can run all day. I’d like to see him in the box more, he’s an obvious threat arriving late. He’s got power, strength, can head the ball, and I just think he’s playing well within himself. I think he has so much more to offer, and I’d like to see him among the goals more.
“If I’m playing against him, I’d be happy seeing in front of me all the time, I wouldn’t want to match his runs running into the box, because he’d run you into the ground.”
I don’t really agree with Souness in all aspects, because I believe Pogba’s threat can be maximized if he brings the best out of others, and I believe he does that more from the edge of the box. However, in time, United may have more world class midfielders in the side, with Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin still finding their feet under Mourinho. With Rooney in attacking midfield, United was virtually playing in a midfield two before, and Schneiderlin and Herrera could have found that experience helpful in gaining the expertise to hold a double-pivot together.
The fact Pogba is beginning to play this well after a month is a huge step, and he just needs to play the way he did against Leicester consistently to place his mark on the Premier League. As that happens, the side will naturally learn to get the best out of him and allow him to score more goals and provide more assists. Ultimately, he showed in Serie A that he could combine for almost thirty, and at United, he should target reaching that mark while maintaining the same defensive influence.