Manchester United beat Newcastle 4-1 on Saturday afternoon and Paul Pogba was named Man of the Match.
Ahead of kick-off, Mourinho revealed that the Frenchman would be returning and was asked how important this would be for the team.
“You can clearly see Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. It’s as simple as that.”
In the five games Pogba had played in before his injury, United had scored 15 and conceded two. Yet throughout this period of over two months that Mourinho has been without him, very little has been said of the understandable impact this would have on the way the team plays.
When United beat Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford a few weeks ago, the result was belittled because Mauricio Pochettino was unable to select an injured Harry Kane. Yet United being without their best player for the game was barely mentioned.
Think yesterday's match showed Paul Pogba's importance to Manchester United. Range of passing is phenomenal and actually dragged his team forward after conceding an early goal. You do still feel Manchester United need another midfielder though.
— Chris Winterburn (@cmwinterburn) November 19, 2017
When United paid £89 million for him, a world-record fee at the time, so much was expected from him. Yet when he spends months out on the sidelines, the same importance isn’t given to his role when he is missing.
United were above City in the table on goal difference after Pogba’s last league game before the injury, yet now they find themselves eight points behind. Imagine if over the past two months City had been without Kevin De Bruyne and Pogba had been fit.
People likely wouldn’t be hailing City as potentially the greatest ever Premier League side then.
De Bruyne has three goals and six assists in 17 appearances so far this season and has been one of the standout players in the league. Pogba has scored three goals and assisted another three in six appearances.
United started the season by scoring four goals in six of their opening 10 fixtures. Low and behold, as soon as Pogba returns, United score four goals again.
You couldn’t argue that the defeats against Huddersfield or Chelsea would have been wins if Pogba had played, but United obviously would have been in a better position to get a result, in those fixtures, and at Anfield, had their most important player been on the pitch.
Pogba. Wow. It’s almost as if being without your best player for two months makes a difference to how well you play 🤔
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) November 18, 2017
Against Newcastle, United looked like the team they were at the beginning of the season, with Pogba central to everything. It was his determination to keep hold of the ball, skill to beat his player, and accuracy in the cross that put United 2-1 up on Saturday, having gone a goal behind. It was Pogba who wrapped up the result by scoring the third.
When Pogba played, United create more than double the chances they do when he is absent.
— Sky Sports PL 👑 (@SkySportsPL) November 5, 2017
It’s not just his own individual brilliance that makes his return important though, but the impact he has on the players around him. He is the engine of the team, who brings so much energy and sets the tone for the rest of them.
Pogba is also a hugely popular player whose presence is welcomed by everyone who gets to play alongside him. Footage emerged over the international break of Pogba meeting up with his French teammates after their win over Wales.
They greeted him as though they were excited fans, all wanting to hug him and do their handshake.
Paul Pogba surprises the French national team 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/Pb7wTUQma5
— France Football 🇫🇷 (@FrenchFutbol) November 11, 2017
After being substituted on Saturday, he received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford crowd, and was cheered by those near the tunnel as he made his way to the dressing room. However, just before he disappeared out of sight, the ball fell to Romelu Lukaku in the box.
Pogba was delighted for his teammate when he rifled the ball in to the roof of the net. He has bags of personality and is such a strong character. Every team would miss someone like him.
After United’s win over Newcastle, Pogba was asked whether he thought they could win the league, and he was very clear with his answer.
“The season is very long,” he said. “If I don’t believe that, I stop playing.
“If I don’t believe that we can still win the league, I stop, I leave my boots and I stop playing football.”
It’s fairly remarkable that with just 12 matches played, no busy period of fixtures and no substantial injuries, that some are keen to hand out the trophy to City already.
Pogba clearly isn’t buying in to that way of thinking and his return puts United in an immeasurably better position to bridge the gap between them and the table toppers.
“Paul Pogba is a different class,” Mourinho said, and he’s right.
It may be a worry for United that their performance levels can drop so much when he’s not in the team, but City would struggle without De Bruyne, Chelsea struggle without Kante, and so on.
It’s normal to have a star player whose absence, no matter the strength of the squad, has an impact.
It is a long season though, as Pogba says, and if United can keep him fit for the rest of the campaign, they may well go on to surprise a few people.