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Why Paul Pogba’s critics are missing the mark for a number of reasons



Paul Pogba isn’t worthy of being the football’s most expensive player.

At least that’s the claim coming from all corners, whether it be the media, former players or the multitude of fans on social media, fan blogs etc. The former Juventus man returned to Manchester United last summer amid much hoopla. Despite some down years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, this was a statement signing signifying the club could withstand lean times and still make a mark. It certainly wasn’t Pogba’s fault that Juventus negotiated shrewdly and United were willing to throw out money at someone they gifted away then realized they desperately needed.

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Pogba’s time in Italy allowed him to evolve into the all-around talented midfielder he is today and the YouTube clips of long-range bombs, exquisite dribbling, and sublime passing have fans expecting all of that regularly. What those clips don’t reveal is the importance of Pogba’s teammates and the tactical setup that allowed those moments. The Frenchman just turned 24 and, like many in his generation despite their talents, still has some fine-tweaking to do with his game.

Any player with Pogba’s talents, especially with the weight of that transfer fee hanging over them, will try to please everyone. Pogba’s case is especially unique as he heads into the self-professed “best league in the world.” Even if that claim isn’t irrefutable, he has definitely made a big step up in competition.

While that transfer fee sticks in the minds of critics it may be hard to step back and recognize that, like other new signings, this is a player adjusting to life on the pitch at Manchester United and the Premier League. There’s also a new coach, new teammates and different style of play. Pogba will be used to dominating the Serie A with Juventus against weaker opponents with a winter break and without the any given Sunday feel of the Premier League.

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Put simply, the criticism of Pogba is mainly down to his value, one he didn’t place on himself, without considering all other factors.

As seen on ESPNFC, a look back at the last few seasons shows that Pogba’s statistics this season aren’t far off his norm. At Juventus, he had nine goals and nine assists in 2013/14, nine goals and five assists in 2014/15 and nine goals and 15 assists in 2015/16. This season he has seven goals and five assists, with at least two months to play.

He’s shown flashes of his talent at times and, knowing the impact he can bring, he could be accused of trying too hard in bigger games. That hasn’t been helped by a manager who is known to prefer more pragmatism than creativity in his midfielders. Mesut Ozil may have been the exception to some extent where that is concerned.

Jose Mourinho has seemingly failed to realize the problems Didier Deschamps had at Euro 2016 or is unwilling to learn from the examples from his peers, Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri. Pogba performs best in a three-man midfield with the freedom to use his range of talents. Whether it was a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, Pogba had two partners. Someone like Andrea Pirlo or Claudio Marchisio helped control the midfield while the likes of Arturo Vidal or Sami Khedira were all-action types. If Pogba is partnered at the base of a 4-2-3-1 then he is better off with an enforcer.

Which is why Mourinho’s reported interest in Monaco star Tiemoue Bakayoko, according to ESPN, makes sense. It’s also why Michael Carrick should be offered a new contract. Bakayoko would fill the role of enforcer any formation Mourinho chooses, as noted here by the Bleacher Report’s Sam Tighe, while Carrick could be used in other situations where more control is required. In either case, Ander Herrera fits the all-action role perfectly.

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Detractors may say that a player who comes in for that amount of money should be able to fit in anywhere and with anyone. It’s quite the opposite. A player like that is bought for what they bring to the team, sometimes to the extent that the team is built around them. Manchester United bought Pogba not just for 2016/17 but for a decade or more of service. It won’t work if he is not put in the best position to succeed.

Another simple bit of reasoning in some corners is that a player transferred for that amount should be the best player in the world. That’s not the case with Pogba nor with the previous player to hold that honor, Gareth Bale. Indeed, Pogba’s fee should be accepted as a product of the finances in football today, however bad a taste such expenditure leaves.

If the likes of Bale, Kevin de Bruyne, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, James Rodriquez and, yes, even Cristiano Ronaldo, can cost more than Zinedine Zidane then why can’t Pogba? And for those who scoff at Ronaldo’s name on that list consider this.

Ronaldo joined Real Madrid at 23 having won titles along with previously being named the best player in the world. Pogba won almost as many titles with Juventus minus the Champions League. Pogba is also still coming of age in an era where two of the greatest ever to play the game, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, still dominate yet his talent suggest he is among those to be next in line. For further comparison, Ronaldo didn’t win anything at Madrid until his third season while Pogba has already helped his side to a trophy and could get at least one more in his debut season.

That’s why his injury is almost a good thing. Pogba will now have time to get some much-needed rest, analyze his season so far and prepare to make a big impact in the games to come. A Europa league title coupled with a top-four finish, though one or the other will do for a Champions League return, would make for a solid season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has led the way and will continue to do so but that’s what experience in four of the five major leagues gets you.

Pogba may not be the highlight-reel fans were expecting nor, in some people’s minds, worth the title of world’s most expensive player. A decent first season is still in hand and the likelihood is that, with the right team around him, next season will be even better.

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Manchester United

Jose Mourinho should build Manchester United around Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford returned with a bang against local rivals Liverpool on Saturday.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

In his first Premier League start since Boxing Day, Marcus Rashford inspired Manchester United to victory over fierce rivals Liverpool. The 20-year-old’s first-half brace was the perfect way to mark his return to the starting XI, which had been confirmed following an injury to Paul Pogba.

Rashford has been a peripheral figure since Alexis Sanchez joined the club in the January transfer window. But, in arguably the biggest fixture on the Premier League calendar, the England international grabbed with both hands a rare opportunity to impress as United moved five points clear of Liverpool.

There was no evidence that Rashford’s prolonged spell out of favour had affected his self-confidence. His first goal was bursting with skill and composure. After latching on to a long ball from Lukaku, Rashford bamboozled Trent Alexander-Arnold before firing past Loris Karius.

Although his second found the net with the aid of a deflection, once again it was a testament to his sharpness. Despite his limited game time, that’s now 12 goals in all competitions this season for the World Cup hopeful.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Rashford’s stunning contribution will certainly give Jose Mourinho food for thought. The Portuguese has regularly picked Pogba, Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of Rashford of late, in the attacking trio behind Romelu Lukaku.

While Martial and Lingard have justified their selections, the same cannot be said of Pogba, who at times has looked uninterested. Sanchez too has yet to exhibit his best form in a United shirt since joining from Arsenal.

History has taught us that Mourinho rarely excludes his high-profile players, regardless of form. Had Pogba not been sidelined through injury, it is entirely likely Rashford would once again have been forced to watch on from the bench. Consequently, what transpired against Liverpool might have been a mere fantasy.

United have a proud tradition of producing homegrown players and not relying on foreign imports. Look at the treble-winning side of 1999, whose success was founded upon a British core.

Admittedly, the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The riches of the Premier League mean a club of United’s stature is able to cherry-pick the world’s best players. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. The club’s identity is sacred and, in recent times, United have been in danger of losing theirs.

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The fact that Rashford was not signed for £75 million should not preclude him from being United’s centrepiece. As he reminded everyone in his performance against Liverpool, he has all the talent required to be a fixture at the club for years to come.

However, he needs to be playing regular football. A few minutes here and there will not accelerate his development. On the contrary, it could risk one of this country’s most promising starlets becoming an unfulfilled talent.

Rashford offers United something different from his team-mates. He gets supporters off their seats and electrifies the atmosphere thanks to his blistering pace and trickery, which in many ways is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Old Trafford.

These are qualities not usually associated with Mourinho, who throughout his time in management has always demanded his players to be tactically aware. Rashford is a wildcard, the ace in the pack that can conjure something out of nothing.

Forget Pogba and Sanchez, If Mourinho gives Rashford an extended run in the team, he and United will flourish.

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Manchester United

Are Manchester United finding form at the perfect time?

Jose Mourinho out-smarted Jurgen Klopp on Saturday to strengthen Manchester United’s grasp on 2nd.

Jake Jackman



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Manchester United have been criticised for their style of play this season, while some have suggested they are a team of individuals. However, they delivered a very good performance to beat rivals Liverpool to build up a five-point lead in second place.

Jose Mourinho will be delighted with the effort and cutting edge of his team, as he got the better of Jurgen Klopp in a huge game to strengthen his team’s position in the top four.

Paul Pogba missed out through injury, which would have been a disappointment before a ball was kicked. However, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic dominated the midfield areas with 13 ball recoveries in the ninety minutes. Ahead of them, Juan Mata added creativity and an attacking threat, especially in the first-half.

The Spaniard came close to scoring before the break with an overhead kick effort and his distribution was nearly faultless, as he finished the match with a 90% pass success rate.

The 29-year-old has had problems with Mourinho in the past, but he has emerged as a great squad option, especially in big matches. In addition to his nice touches on the ball, he made three ball recoveries. This underlines how he has bought into the style of his manager.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Marcus Rashford was another player to come into the team and he showed why he was selected as he scored twice to put Manchester United into a commanding first-half lead. His two goals were similar as they both came from Romelu Lukaku knock-ons. Mourinho knew Liverpool could be targeted with a direct approach and it worked.

The first showed great movement from Rashford as he gambled on his team-mate winning the ball and that gave him the march on the Liverpool defenders. He then coolly dropped a shoulder and cut inside before firing past Loris Karius. It showed impressive composure and skill in the final third. The England international has sometimes struggled with his final ball, but he was back to his best on Saturday.

He then added a second that once again showed his excellent finishing ability. Another long ball caused chaos, but it didn’t go directly to Rashford this time. When it did drop at his feet on the edge of the area, he delivered a perfectly measured shot to make it 2-0. It is now up to the 20-year-old to push on over the coming weeks to become a regular starter for club and country.

Jose Mourinho flourishes when he is defending a lead. He prefers to control matches without possession and that was the case on Saturday as his team had only 31.9% of possession. Liverpool had 14 attempts to Manchester United’s five, but the result was never in doubt.

That is highlighted by the expected goals. Michael Caley’s model valued the home side’s chances created at exactly 1.0, while it valued Liverpool’s opportunities at 0.8.

To put this into context, Manchester United had less possession and had fewer attempts, but they created the better chances and kept an in-form Liverpool attack relatively quiet.

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The finish was made nervy by an unfortunate own goal from Eric Bailly. The defender couldn’t repeat what he managed even if he tried and it is difficult to prepare for such a bad piece of luck. Luckily for Mourinho, his side had a two-goal lead and the own goal didn’t push them.

The majority of Manchester United players can be pleased with their performances, but Ashley Young was perhaps the standout player. The 32-year-old made 10 ball recoveries and made five clearances to help the defensive effort.

Mohamed Salah was rarely in the game and the England international deserves huge credit for his role in that. He was disciplined and rarely ventured forwards. If he can continue to perform to that level, he would emerge as a great World Cup option for Gareth Southgate.

The past week for Manchester United has been a positive one and it should provide them with momentum to finish the season strongly. They showed great spirit to fight back from 2-0 down at Selhurst Park to get three points and they displayed excellent game-management to dispatch of one of their rivals.

They are now in a good position to finish second and that would be an achievement of sorts given the consistency of Manchester City. In addition to that, they can target Champions League success.

They aren’t one of the frontrunners for the competition, but they are good at managing games and have beaten now Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. If they can improve away from home, they could reach their peak at the perfect time.

Jose Mourinho has a record of doing that and this result should encourage supporters that this season could follow a similar pattern.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

The Red Devils mounted an incredible comeback at Selhurst Park.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Nemanja Matic scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Manchester United overturned a two-goal deficit to inflict more pain on struggling Crystal Palace. Matic fired home from 25 yards to complete a memorable comeback from United, whose victory helped them regain second spot in the Premier League. Palace, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after slipping to their third successive defeat.

Selhurst Park was rocking when Andros Townsend put the hosts ahead via a huge deflection, before Patrick van Aanholt doubled their lead shortly after the break. However, Chris Smalling gave United hope 10 minutes later and the visitors then restored parity through Romelu Lukaku. With time ebbing away the draw looked inevitable, only for Matic to break Palace’s hearts with his first goal for the club. Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images)

Palace’s survival hopes suffer a hammer blow

A week earlier, the Eagles thought they had earned a vital point against Spurs in their battle to avoid the drop. That was until Harry Kane popped up to snatch victory with practically the last touch of the game. A sense of deja-vu was palpable when, after another encouraging performance against one of the top-flight’s heavyweights, Matic ensured Palace went home empty-handed. It was a monumental body blow.

Roy Hodgson’s side had belied their lowly league position and taken the attack to United, deservedly assuming complete control. Had the score remained at 2-0, Palace would have been as high as 13th in the table. But United’s comeback, which left Hodgon and his players visibly deflated, means they are 18th, one point adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Although the performance was a positive one, the result leaves the South London club deep in the mire.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Mourinho buoyed as United show resilience

For all the talk about how this has been a disappointing campaign for United, they leapfrogged Liverpool into second place as a result of this stunning victory. Jose Mourinho’s men exhibited substantial amounts of steel in doing so. They faced a real test of character, having fallen behind against a team fighting for their lives. It looked like a mountainous task, but United fought their way back into the game before snatching all three points at the death.

This was the first time since 2013 that the Red Devils had clawed back a two-goal deficit to win a Premier League match. Of all their victories this season, perhaps this one will please Mourinho the most. Any divisions are quickly exposed when teams find themselves in trouble. But the way United stuck to their task was a big statement at a key stage of the season. It should give Mourinho belief that his side can see off the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to finish runners-up.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Hodgson desperate for Wilfried Zaha’s return

Hodgson has previously tried to dismiss its significance, but Palace’s inability to win without Wilfried Zaha cannot be passed off as an anomaly. The Eagles have lost every single one of the nine Premier League games in which the 25-year-old has not featured this season, scoring only one goal in the process. For a while it looked as though that alarming record would be consigned to the history books, until United mounted an inspired comeback.

Zaha is clearly a talented individual whose absence would affect any team’s potency, but Palace’s over-reliance on him must be very concerning. The Ivory Coast international is currently sidelined through a knee injury and although he is back in light training, Hodgson has put no timeframe on his return to the fold. It’s no exaggeration to argue the Eagles’ survival aspirations depend on him.

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