Paul Pogba: the Premier League’s best central midfielder
There’s a lot that can be bought with £89 million. That’s how much it took to free the world’s most talented young midfielder from Juventus this past summer. In some quarters it bought Manchester United an over-rated, over-dabbing, hair- changing vine merchant. The truth is very different of course. Performances increasingly show that United now boasts the best midfielder in the Premier League. Not only that, he might be on another level altogether than his rivals.
After an early djustment period, where he was nevertheless impressive, Pogba has become increasingly influential in recent weeks. It’s no coincidence that United has hit top gear at the same time. Apart from a few choice performances, the Frenchman has been one of United’s best performers since the autumn.
All of this in the context of Pogba’s non-existent pre-season, with the midfielder being thrown straight into action after some time off to recuperate from the summer’s action. It’s a testament not only to Pogba’s natural fitness, but his ability to adjust quickly from four years away in Serie A. In fact, he had barely kicked a ball in senior football for the Red Devils prior to a £1 million move to Juventus in 2012.
"There’s a lot that can be bought with £89 million. That’s how much it took to free the world’s most talented young midfielder this past summer. Performances increasingly show that United now boasts the best in the Premier League."
Increasingly, Pogba is a step up in class from the midfielders he faces each week. Perhaps the 23-year-old will never score enough world-class goals or make enough vine-friendly assists to satisfy his detractors, but United fans are certainly happy – and so is his manager. At Old Trafford, the feeling is that he has already paid back every cent.
After all, for years United has craved a midfielder to dominate games, in the way that Roy Keane and Paul Scholes once did. Now the team boasts a midfield worthy of the stage, and a singular talent in Pogba that can transform games. It’s no stretch to argue that Pogba is a unique, potentially generational talent who will play a leading role in taking United back to preeminence.
Indeed, rarely since Scholes and Keane moved on have supporters been treated to midfield displays as powerful as Pogba’s this season – he was world-class in games against Leicester City, Fenerbahçe, Feyenoord, West Ham United and Zorya. Recent performances against Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Middlesbrough rendered the Frenchman unplayable. United’s recent unbeaten streak is in no small part thanks to Pogba’s dominant performances.
In particular, Pogba’s passing is a joy. He is probably the best player of long passes since Scholes roamed the Old Trafford midfield, hitting some simply jaw dropping – and effective – long balls. In terms of numbers Pogba completes 5.4 long passes per game, which is third overall in the league. He completes 71 percent of them though, compared to Jordan Henderson (first in toal long balls played) with 58.7 per cent and Charlie Adam’s (second) 44 per cent. In fact, Pogba’s completion percentage is highest amongst the top 10 players of long passes in the league.
Pogba has scored six times so far this season, but could have bagged far more; the Frenchman has hit the post seven times already, more than any other Premier League player. Nevertheless, six goals and four assists is already an excellent tally. Meanwhile, his chance creation is amongst the best in England. In fact, he’s 10th in the league for total key passes. Amongst central midfielders? Pogba lies first in both total key passes and key passes per game.
Beyond his creativity, is Pogba’s physical assets are impressive. His ability to hold the ball up against multiple opponents, and drive the ball forward is hugely impressive. Perhaps only Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Dembélé can lay claim to being able to do it at a comparable level. There’s a reason Pogba leads the Premier League with 54 completed dribbles, with Riyad Mahrez next closest with 41. Dembélé is fourth on 36.
Pogba’s strike-rate is a decent early return at the halfway mark, with only Joe Allen and Etienne Capoue among central midfielders who have scored more in the league. It’s not for the want of trying, with Pogba averaging 3.5 shots per game, which leads all players in his position. Not only is he leading all midfielders in completed dribbles, but he’s winning lots of aerial challenges too with 59. Victor Wanyama is well behind in second on 44.
So what about that supposed “slow start” to his second spell at Old Trafford? To underline the raw numbers and anecdotal evidence, Pogba is second in Squawka’s performance score and third according to WhoScored. He’s top for most observers at Old Trafford – performances are firmly in the world-class category.
With half a season to play Pogba is likely to improve as his team grows. José Mourinho is building his United around the Frenchman in an effective 4-3-3 system. That’s a scary thought for rivals as the Premier League’s best midfielder prepares for the backend of his first campaign back in England.
All data from WhoScored.com or Squawka.com.