Pogba's price could be a bargain

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-22 06:55

Return of mercurial Frenchman fires United's title aspirations

LONDON - He does not yet share teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic's cult status, but Paul Pogba's display on his return from injury showed his importance to Manchester United is second to none.

Having toiled in Pogba's absence, recently taking four points from a possible 12 in the Premier League, United rediscovered its swagger against Newcastle United last Saturday when the Frenchman made his return.

With a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win, Pogba was the man of the match and his overall display helped United find a level it had rarely reached during his two-month absence.

"He affects our football," summarized United manager Jose Mourinho.

"We all know, myself and the others, that certain players influence the levels of the team. With him we have much more creation."

Though he has often dazzled with his long-legged technical artistry, the recognition of Pogba's influence on United's play has been slow in coming.

His then world-record $118 million transfer from Juventus last year created huge expectations. Although his first season was successful, there were few fireworks.

Pogba's price could be a bargain

Pogba finished the season with nine goals in 51 appearances and winner's medals in both the League Cup and Europa League, his goal in the final of the latter setting United en route to victory over Ajax.

But he could not compete with Ibrahimovic, whose scoring prowess and larger-than-life persona immediately made him a favorite with the Old Trafford faithful.

United's fans wrote a song for Ibrahimovic before he even made his official debut.

Anthony Martial, too, is regularly serenaded, but Pogba is still waiting for an ode in his honor to take root.

With Ibrahimovic sidelined by an injury of his own, Pogba took center stage in the opening weeks of the current campaign as United made an impressive start to the season.

Yet it was only during the period of absence brought on by the hamstring injury Pogba sustained against Basel on Sept 12 that his importance began to be truly acknowledged.

"I think Pogba is a big miss because of his confidence and arrogance," said former United captain Gary Neville after Mourinho's men succumbed to a 1-0 loss at Chelsea.

"He takes the ball into tight areas, holds the ball, beats a man."

Paul Scholes, meanwhile, said Pogba's unavailability explained why Romelu Lukaku had suddenly started to look ordinary.

"He (Pogba) links the team together," said the former United midfielder.

"I don't think they have a good enough No 10 at the moment and that doesn't help Lukaku. Lukaku is having to do a lot for himself, but Pogba will make the difference."

With Pogba in the lineup, United has scored 16 goals in five Premier League games this season, or 3.2 per game.

When Pogba is not playing, the average goals figure drops to 1.6.

The 24-year-old has been directly responsible for eight goals in his last six league appearances - four goals, four assists - and with him and Ibrahimovic back on the scene, confidence is flooding back.

Manchester City opened up an eight-point lead over United while Pogba was convalescing, but both he and Ibrahimovic spoke optimistically about reeling in Pep Guardiola's side.

While United has lost ground in the league, it has not missed a beat in the Champions League and visits Basel on Wednesday needing just a point to reach the knockout phase as group winner.

Mourinho has indicated Pogba could be rested, but whether he plays or not, his return to fitness has given United a major lift.

Agence France - presse

 Pogba's price could be a bargain

Paul Pogba reacts during Manchester United's 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford, Manchester, last Saturday. With Pogba in the lineup, United has scored 16 goals in five Premier League matches this season-an average of 3.2 per game.Andrew Yates / Reuters

(China Daily 11/22/2017 page22)

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