For a record fee of £89 million, a vital FA Cup quarter-final tie against arch-Premier League rivals Chelsea is the sort of game where you would expect Manchester United’s Paul Pogba to turn up for.
Yet – as has been the case on numerous times already this season – the 23-year-old failed to make an impact as FA Cup holders United crashed out of the competition to Jose Mourinho’s former side.
With the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney sidelined United needed their summer signing to step up and take leadership on the pitch, but at no point on Monday evening did Pogba even begin to take control of the game. His in-game decision making and overall lacklustre performance showed a lack of maturity and reminded everyone that he is only 23-years-old, failing to step up to the mark again.
Perhaps if Ander Herrera hadn’t been needlessly dismissed in the first-half and the Spaniard had remained in United’s midfield alongside Pogba his performance could have been different, but it still doesn’t detract from a disappointing evening for the youngster – and he will know he didn’t deliver.
Perhaps unfortunate for Pogba was the exceptional performance from Chelsea’s opposite number N’Golo Kante, who ran the show all night for the hosts. If anything, it highlighted just how poor his fellow Frenchman was all evening, giving Pogba a footballing lesson in the heart of the midfield.
Although United struggled to get out of their own half during a testing second half, Pogba lost out 16 times in the tackle against Chelsea players in comparison to Kante who only lost out three times, whilst he twice was beaten in the air – double Kante’s tally despite his much smaller physical nature.
The most astonishing, and arguably worrying, statistic to come from Stamford Bridge is that Pogba only made 27 passes in 90 minutes of football, attempting 0 dribbles and completing zero key passes in the attacking final third; not exactly the return that boss Jose Mourinho would have been wanting.
Pogba was even outdone by his opposite number in the shooting category, though. After only one goal since leaving Leicester for Chelsea, also against United, Kante fired his side into the semi-finals with a sublime low shot into the corner – yet when Pogba was presented with an equally clear chance from the edge of the area he sliced past Thibaut Courtois’ post with a tame left-foot effort.
As alluded to earlier in the piece, Monday evening wasn’t the first time that Pogba has simply gone missing in a pivotal match – United’s draw against Liverpool in the league is just one example – and it’s hard to stop frustrations from growing at Old Trafford with the midfielder having huge potential.
Yet the key thing is that he is only young at 23-years-old, and bringing him back to Old Trafford was a sign of intent from the club that, within the next five years, they are aiming to be one of Europe’s big superpowers in football once more – and Paul Pogba will be almost certainly at the heart of those efforts.
For someone so young there has been a huge amount of pressure put on his shoulders so far this season, with it almost expected that he will transform United into world-beaters overnight, yet it will take time for him to grow into the way that Mourinho is moulding his side.
On Monday it wasn’t his night, and up against the immovable force that is N’Golo Kante it made him stick out for all the wrong reasons, but now it’s about how he bounces back against Rostov on Thursday.
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