Paul Pogba's return cannot come soon enough for Manchester United
There has been an immense amount of pressure on Paul Pogba since he arrived at Manchester United last season for a world record fee. The Frenchman helped guide United to both the League Cup and the Europa League titles. However, United's 6th place finish in the league was correctly regarded as a disappointment.
Pogba showed flashes of his ability - the exquisite volley against Swansea, numerous filthy balls clipped into Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but his overall form was seen as only passable. He's had many detractors in the media not least Liverpool legend and Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness who even went so far as to suggest United had "had their trousers taken down" by Juventus in the deal that brought Pogba to Old Trafford.
Massive deals such as Neymar's move to Paris Saint-Germain in this summer's transfer window have put things into perspective. No longer lumbered with the tag of 'Most Expensive Player In World Football' Pogba was relieved of certain pressures. Circumstances and his ability could arguably see him considered a bargain by the end of this season.
His flying start to the season suggested he could prove all of his doubters wrong. Goals in the opening two games against West Ham and Swansea married with impressive all-round performances gave United fans cause to be optimistic. Nemanja Matic's arrival at the club gave United the powerful anchor they had been missing, the big Serb freed Pogba up to create havoc in the opposition's final third.
Breaking the shackles
With the shackles off Pogba looked a danger every time he got the ball. His harshest critics remained unconvinced. Then came the hamstring injury that has seen Pogba miss United's last nine matches.
Since then United have looked unconvincing. They've still picked up a couple of impressive wins - notably the 4-0 wins against Everton and Crystal Palace - but they haven't been able to control games the way they did with Pogba in the side.
Pogba's absence has been most acutely felt in the attacking third. It's no coincidence that his injury has coincided with a massive drop off in form for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku, United's furthest forward players in Jose Mourinho's first choice starting eleven. Both have struggled to get into games without Pogba on the pitch.
Pogba has an 85% passing accuracy with 65% of those forward passes, he is more willing to take risks than most and this season he has the safety net of Matic to fall back on. He also has the ability to pull off audacious passes leaving the forwards with less work to do once they receive the ball.
United have missed these traits and at times have looked bereft of real quality creativity without Pogba. Perhaps it has taken this injury for fans and doubters alike to realize just what a good player Pogba is and how much better he makes United.
United are crying out for the Frenchman's return - scheduled for the upcoming Chelsea match - it can't come soon enough. If Mourinho's side are to claw back points on the rampant Man City they will need Pogba fit from here on in.