It’s fair to say that despite their current second-place standing, Man United are not having a great season in the Premier League. The Red Devils were expected by many to win the league title in Jose Mourinho’s second season in charge of the club, but as things stand, rivals Manchester City are running away with the championship. In fact, they may well have won the race and the rest of the teams are stuck in a time loop.
United are 15 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side – yes, 15! – and it is hard to see City drop anywhere near that number; it’s little wonder that they are the overwhelming favourites for the Premier League title, according to latest football betting odds. True, anything is possible in football, but it will be biggest shock in world football since Leicester City’s Premier League title triumph in 2015-16 if City are dislodged from the pole position. It ain’t gonna happen.
Paul Pogba has come under some harsh criticism in recent weeks, as United toil and labour to pick up points from their Premier League games. Club legend Paul Scholes was recently scathing in his judgement of the France international midfielder’s performances this season. Following the Red Devils’ goalless draw with Southampton, former England international midfielder Scholes claimed that Pogba “doesn’t look like a player who will win you games”. United manager Jose Mourinho has since hit back at Scholes, suggesting that the Englishman is jealous of Pogba.
Scholes was probably a bit harsh on Pogba. Scrap that. He was excessively harsh on Pogba. After all, the former Juventus star has had injury issues, and it is not easy for players to return to top form after being on the sidelines for a spell. Moreover, he played a key role in Juventus’ successive Scudetti from 2013 until 2016 and also guided the Italian giants to the final of the Champions League in 2015. You don’t do that if you are not a player who cannot win games.
However, there is a case to be made in Scholes’ defence. Pogba was world class during his time at Juventus, but the 24-year-old has yet to set the Premier League on fire since his return to United in the summer of 2016. There is no doubt that Pogba has a lot of potential and is laden with quality, but based on his performances since the start of the 2016-17 Premier League season, not many would pick him among the top five midfielders in England at the moment.
Pogba, though, has not always been played in his best position. At Juventus, the Frenchman had the midfield built around him, meaning that he can go on the attack freely and was able to do his stuff. Mourinho has often deployed the 24-year-old as part of a deep-sitting midfield two, alongside Nemanja Matic, and that has certainly tempered his impact in attack. When Pogba has played further forward and has been able to control the attack, he has been much more effective. It is not Pogba’s fault that Mourinho has given him a different role that he did when he was at Italian and European giants Juventus.
Mourinho is a defensive-minded manager, and Pogba cannot be blamed for what his manager asks him to do – defend first, attack later. Scholes would be better off directing his anger at Mourinho than criticising Pogba.
The stats are also in favour of Pogba. The France international has scored three goals and provided seven assists in 12 Premier League starts for United so far this season. During the 2016-17 campaign, the midfielder scored five goals and provided four assists in 29 league starts despite playing much of the season in a deeper role in midfield. Pogba also scored in the final of the Europa League last season, which United won. While it is clear that Pogba should do more for United as the season progresses, much has to do with how Mourinho plays him.
Put Pogba in the Manchester City team, and he would be the star of the show. Scholes in his prime might not make the substitutes bench at the Etihad these days.