Resurgent Paul Pogba proves again he is Manchester United's driving force
The French midfielder's future may be in doubt off the field but on the pitch he has found his form, scoring twice in the Uefa Champions League win over Young Boys
Six games into this season and Paul Pogba already has four goals to his name.
The French World Cup winner only managed six in the whole of last season and did not reach four until April.
The two goals against Manchester City which took him there were a highlight of the season for both him and his employers, but his overall total was not enough for a man of his talents and attacking capabilities.
It is looking better for this season. He scored twice, one a penalty, against Young Boys last night as United opened their Uefa Champions League campaign with a 3-0 win, but Pogba’s showing a confidence and intent that has not always been obvious in his second spell with the club.
His opening goal in the 35th minute which came after selling a dummy to Mohamed Ali Camera on the edge of the area.
Pogba had started the move, playing a ball inside to Fred on the edge of the box. The Brazilian tried to dribble but was tackled and the ball came back to Pogba. He shimmied, confusing Camera and creating the fraction of space needed to fire a shot into the top corner from the edge of the area. It was the goal of a man full of confidence.
Eight minutes later, United were awarded a penalty which Pogba eventually took. His run up was staggered and nerve inducing for the 2,000 United fans in the noisy 32,000 crowd, but unlike at Burnley where his penalty was saved, this effort, struck with the inside of the right foot, right into the roof of the net.
“I had no doubt about taking the penalty,” Pogba told MUTV after the match. “I know I missed that one. I said Joe Hart got me this time but I won’t do the same mistake. I have the confidence of the players and they let me take it so I should thank them and the manager. He let me take it as well so the most important thing is to put the ball in. That’s what happened so I’m happy.”
With a large fluorescent captain’s armband and pink football boots, there was no missing Manchester United’s No 6 in the centre of the field. He hit long cross-field passes which skidded on the slick artificial surface but found their target. When Pogba came to life, so did his team.
He shielded the ball, he took free-kicks, was athletic enough to move all around the pitch playing at a level far too good for his opponents.
He also set up Anthony Martial for United’s third goal in the 66th minute after driving forward from midfield. United fans sang for Martial rather than his compatriot and captain, but that’s because a song especially for Pogba has yet to catch on.
Pogba is not United’s captain, but he’s now been captain in half his team’s games, a role he wants.
With his work done, Pogba was replaced by Andreas Pereira after 75 minutes. He normally plays 90 minutes in the Premier League, but stayed on for a full match only once in the Champions League last season.
Such was his form, he did not even start in either of the last 16 games against Sevilla last season, but he is become more important to the team now, if not undroppable. However unpalatable it might be for manager Jose Mourinho, United do not need to give Pogba excuses to be unhappy.
In Bern, his side were comfortable as Pogba applauded the away fans and their response was as warm as the Swiss night.
With Juventus and Valencia the other sides in the group it was important United got the three points here.
Mourinho’s side, featuring Diego Dalot on his debut at right back, were initially under pressure. Indeed, they appeared unsettled and, several times, unsteady on their feet for most of the first half against the Swiss champions who have won their opening five league games, as well as reaching the European Cup for the first time since 1986.
With his future at United uncertain and speculation persistent that he wants to leave Old Trafford, Pogba claims that he will always give 100 per cent while he is at the club where his professional career started.
That was doubtful in United’s defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion a month ago and he said as much, while he faded in the second half in United’s other defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, but overall Pogba has performed well this season.
He was effective in the first game against Leicester City and among the best players in the away wins at Burnley and Watford.
United have little intention of selling their most expensive ever signing. Shirts with his name on sell more than any other, but he will be judged mainly by what he does on the pitch.
He will also be critiqued in tougher games than against Young Boys. The Bern side may already be eight points clear in their domestic league under new manager Gerardo Seoane, but their Champions League inexperience showed against a team who soaked up their pressure, then took their chances.
United are up and running, but they could not afford to be anything else.
Updated: September 20, 2018 11:51 AM