Paul Pogba emerged with the Man-of-the-Match award following Manchester United’s Wednesday night victory over Crystal Palace. Having scored the opener, before assisting Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner in the 88th minute, following James McArthur’s equaliser, Pogba stole the plaudits as the Red Devils collected maximum points for the second time in four days. However, suggestions that the French international was ‘colossal’ at Selhust Park, aren’t entirely accurate.
Despite scoring one goal and assisting another, this was far from Paul Pogba’s best performance in a Manchester United shirt, as Robbie Savage eagerly suggested during his match commentary. Sloppy in possession, the Frenchman misplaced a number of passes in the centre of the park – he completed just 82% of his attempts to find a teammate – putting his side under serious pressure on a number of occasions. He may have had more touches than any player involved yesterday evening (122), but he misplaced 16 passes in total, recording the lowest accuracy of anyone else in white (bar Ibrahimovic).
In truth, he was rather fortunate in the way his first-half goal fell to him: following a handball from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the six-yard box, Pogba found himself in an offside position, from which he could casually stroke the ball into an all-but empty net. It was the simplest of finishes, one you would only expect Kevin de Bruyne to have missed. Nonetheless, it gave the Red Devils a foothold in, what could have proven, a tricky away tie against the Eagles.
And, while he will receive praise for his cushioned ball into Ibrahimovic’s path for United’s second, this is a chance he would have been expected to make. After all, Damien Delaney showed exquisite skill in playing practically the same pass, to set up Palace’s equaliser a little earlier on. In the build-up to the move, Pogba had very little standing in his path, with Yohan Cabaye practically falling at his compatriot’s feet, allowing him to advance towards the penalty area uncontested.
Pogba perhaps should have had two assists to his name, had Wayne Rooney not scuffed his attempted close-range volley in the first half. Nonetheless, the Frenchman finished the match having made four chances for his team, while fashioning four strikes at goal, two of which were on target. He was Jose Mourinho’s most creative player on the night, which goes a long way to explaining how he was eventually given the accolade of Man-of-the-match.
The one aspect of Pogba’s game that was really pleasing to see, is his willingness to roll his sleeves up and get involved with the defensive side of the game. The 23-year-old possesses an imposing frame and, being a naturally physical player, he is a considerable asset in this regard. Winning two tackles and contributing with two interceptions, he did well to break down Palace’s attacking efforts. In addition, he was an effective aerial threat for the Red Devils, winning six of ten contested headers in the centre of the park.
Adapting to the Premier League, having been so impressive in the Italian top flight, is proving a steady process for the Frenchman. And, while goals and assists are likely to deter the critics, his underlying performances are still far from what you would expect from an £89 million player. For now, the pressure is off the Frenchman – albeit only until he takes to the field against West Brom on Saturday – but the Old Trafford faithful will soon start to pick holes in his performances, if his overall game isn’t stepped up several notches.
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