Scarcely have we seen Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United give such an inspired performance as the one we witnessed this past weekend against Newcastle.
Like most of their Premier League season so far, United found themselves with their backs against the wall as Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United led the home side 2-0 going into the second half.
The stark contrast in United’s style of play between the opening and closing 45 minutes was remarkable.
Fans familiar with the club’s traditional tendency to steal victories in the dying moments of a game during Fergie’s tenure will be pleased to see the modern United side adopt the same determination – even amidst such a turbulent time behind-the-scenes.
United’s players banded together in an overtly attacking style of play. But it was one player who stood out the most.
Paul Pogba has pretty much encompassed the Red Devils’ season so far: Heaps of talent, but an abundance of off-field drama tainting his football. Against Newcastle, however, the Frenchman showed us the kind of returns you’d expect from a player slapped with a £89million price tag…
Paul Pogba’s season so far:
Despite the rumoured rifts between him and his gaffer, Paul Pogba has still managed to start in all eight of Manchester United’s Premier League games so far.
Pogba has tallied two goals whilst assisting a further two, as well as creating two big chances for his team-mates.
The 25-year-old has also managed an average passing accuracy of 82%, with a 62.5% tackles success rate and 45% of his duels won.
Paul Pogba vs Newcastle:
During Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Newcastle, Pogba achieved the most shots on goal (six, three on target), the highest passing percentage (89.7%), and the most successful take-ons (three) of any player on the field.
One of the 78 passes he completed managed to assist Anthony Martial for United’s second goal. Meanwhile, Pogba also managed to create two major chances during the game.
During the first half, Pogba occupied his usual role of central midfield alongside Nemanja Matic, while Scott McTominay dropped deeper, acting more as a right-handed centre-back. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young pushed forward as wing-backs.
As the match went on, the shape of United’s team morphed to suit a much more attacking approach. Eric Bailly made way for Juan Mata to add creativity, United’s plan B Fellaini came on for McTominay, and Sanchez replaced Marcus Rashford in the dying moments.
While maintaining possession in the second half, Pogba played a much deeper role – almost as a central defender. He, alongside Matic and Smalling, were tasked with creating opportunities from the back.
A key characteristic of Paul Pogba’s style of play is how quickly he can switch play to release players on the opposite side of the field into space. Pogba did this three times during the Newcastle game, with Ashley Young being on the receiving end on the right flank. Having a player with the technical ability to carry out such passes has proven crucial in United remaining unpredictable in attack.
Strength in defence
Furthermore, the game also saw Pogba’s defensive chops come to the fore. The midfielder made a whopping 10 ball recoveries (the second most of any player) while completing two tackles and winning 100% of his aerial duels (three).
Pogba earned praise during the 2018 World Cup for his ability to dominate the deeper channels. Fans have longed for the Frenchman to replicate his form during the tournament. This might be the closest we’ve seen of Pogba reaching those heights so far.
Typically, he’s never a player you’d rely on to lead a defensive line. Mourinho has often been criticised whenever it appears that Pogba features in a slightly more defensive position. However, in a squad that was this attacking, he proved to be the perfect deep-lying creator.
Fans couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic way to enter the international break. Paul Pogba’s inconsistent form has induced a nagging frustration amongst fans. Though, I suppose he’s not the only one who’s failed to impress consistently.
Last weekend was just another reminder of the kind of player United have among their ranks. The club will struggle to replace him should he eventually move to Barcelona – as reports suggest.
With him, however, United have a much greater chance of closing the gap between them and their noisy neighbours.