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Paul Pogba is indispensable to Manchester United...or is he?

  • Why highly-rated midfielder's stint at Manchester United can be considered a flop?
  • Here's how United can thrive without Pogba and who could replace him.
Marko Vrakela
Modified 20 Mar 2020, 00:52 IST

Paul Pogba.
Paul Pogba.

Widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, Paul Pogba has done too little to back that opinion since landing at Old Trafford. There's a genuine feeling that the Frenchman has never managed to replicate his Juventus form at Manchester United, often encountering criticism for his lackadaisical attitude and lack of commitment. 

Pogba definitely possesses certain qualities that very few midfielders in Europe boast of but has yet to channel his attributes properly to stand out among his peers. Undoubtedly, his proneness to injuries has been the highlight of the underwhelming 2019-20 season for the 27-year-old, who has been restricted to just five Premier League starts. 

He has spent more time treating injuries and promoting himself on Instagram than actually playing football during this campaign. Pogba's off-field behaviour that brought him criticism has created an opinion that he devotes his time on the sidelines to establish himself as an entertainer rather than a football player.

Pogba's long-term recovery has led critics to draw comparisons to Everton midfielder Andre Gomes. The Portuguese midfielder broke his leg against Tottenham Hotspur in November and has already returned to the fold, while the Frenchman has yet to nurse the ankle problem that has been troubling him since the beginning of the season. 

Does Pogba make the difference for United?

The United fans always expect the French World Cup winner to drive his teammates forward and make the difference, but how often Pogba managed to live up to expectations?

Sitting three points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are very much in contention for Champions League qualification, and they've got there without Pogba, which raises questions over his indispensability in the Norwegian's set-up.

The former Juventus man has never been a player that puts up video game-like numbers, but he has set a certain standard he has often failed to live up to at Old Trafford. 

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League
Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League

He has featured in 14 Champions League matches for the Red Devils over the past three seasons, scoring just two goals (both against Young Boys in last season's group stage curtain-raiser) and providing two assists. 

When United won the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2016-17, the Frenchman participated in just 16.67% (4) of United's 24 goals scored in the competition.

Pogba enjoyed his most prolific Premier League season last year when he scored 13 and assisted nine in 35 league outings, although seven of those goals came from the spot (53.85%). 

United can thrive without Pogba

Manchester United outplayed cross-town rivals Manchester City in three of four competitive head-to-head meetings this season (L1), securing back-to-back Premier League triumphs over Pep Guardiola's side for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.

United had a great time against City this season on most occasions.
United had a great time against City this season on most occasions.

Led by resolute Solskjaer, the Old Trafford outfit have racked up an 11-game unbeaten streak in all competitions (W8, D3) before the coronavirus halt, keeping a clean sheet nine times during that run. For the first time in the post-Ferguson era, the three-time European champions seem like a compact unit willing to commit and sacrifice.

In Pogba's absence, the Red Devils have thrived in the Europa League campaign, finishing top of the section before dumping Club Brugge out in the round of 32 and demolishing LASK 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Bruno Fernandes can keep Red Devils in safe hands even without Pogba

Pogba's status as an indispensable first-team player in the United system has never been questioned before the January transfer window. But, the arrival of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon has changed that perspective.

The Portuguese playmaker has been a difference-maker ever since he landed at Old Trafford, turning a struggling side into a force to be reckoned with. Curiously, the 25-year-old has featured in the same number of league matches as Pogba (5) this season, but it proved enough for him to win the Premier League Player of the Month award.

Bruno Fernandes is presented with the Premier League Player of the Month award for February
Bruno Fernandes is presented with the Premier League Player of the Month award for February

The outstanding impact Fernandes has made at United has already cast a shadow on the French midfielder, who seems to have surrendered his influence in the dressing room to the former Sampdoria man. 

Fernandes has undoubtedly changed the landscape at the 'Theatre of Dreams,' quickly establishing himself as the leader of Solskjaer's newly-born force. As things stand at the moment, Pogba's services are welcome but not as vital as they had been before the Portuguese's arrival.

Published 20 Mar 2020, 00:52 IST
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