Manchester United started their Champions League campaign on a high this week after beating Young Boys 3-0 away from home. Despite them being the weakest team in the group, away ties in Europe are never a foregone conclusion, particularly for a team suffering from United’s erratic form this season, so it was a good result for Jose Mourinho’s side.
The manager chose Paul Pogba to captain the side in Antonio Valencia’s absence, something he has already done on a couple of occasions this season, leaving some fans less than impressed.
During the most recent international break the Frenchman was pretty noncommittal when it came to his future at United, refusing to dismiss Barcelona rumours, which angered supporters who had previously taken his side over the manager.
Mourinho started the season realising how important it was to plump up the player’s ego and uncharacteristically opted not to go head-to-head with his star player. He has now signed two players, Nemanja Matic and Fred, in an attempt to bring out the best in him, has reverted to a 4-3-3 formation and played Pogba on his preferred left side. He’s essentially made Pogba vice-captain, and sings his praises whenever given the opportunity.
Pogba’s response to this has been mixed, however. In some games, he has been superb, then in others he’s gone missing. There’s no denying that he has bags of potential but the same criticisms of him being inconsistent have already been justifiably made this season.
Yet in his performance against Young Boys, Pogba showed United fans exactly what they were missing when he isn’t at his best. He put his team ahead with a superb strike at a time when United had been enduring plenty of pressure from the home side. It was the perfect moment to step up to the plate and produce a moment of brilliance.
Having been awarded a generous penalty, Pogba confidently struck the ball in to the back of the net, after taking 26 steps in the run up. It’s those sort of things, along with his haircuts, goal celebrations and social media presence that really wind some people up. But he makes it a lot harder for people to have a pop at him when he comes up with the goods.
With United 2-0 ahead, Pogba picked up the ball in midfield and went on a great run. He then played in Anthony Martial to score United’s third.
When looking at Pogba on paper, it’s hard to argue with his contribution this season. In five games in all competitions, he’s scored four goals and has one assist. That’s exactly the sort of form a player of his ability should be in.
Yet United fans are still right to demand more from him. It’s not just about his goals and assists, rather his all-round play. Too often he concedes possession sloppily, only to play an inch-perfect 40-yard ball minutes later. When he’s in the right mood, he’s capable of totally bossing the matches he plays in, but sadly, his head isn’t always in the game.
Following United’s 3-2 defeat against Brighton earlier in the season, the captain conceded that he wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
“The attitude we had was not like we wanted to beat them, they had more hunger than us,” he said. “I put myself first, my attitude wasn’t right enough, we keep trying and pushing, and it is going to be a big lesson for us.”
United face Wolves at the weekend and Pogba has another opportunity to build on the positive display he produced in Switzerland.
If it’s another big money move he craves, with Barcelona reportedly keen on signing him, he has to do more than show up every now and again and he owes it to United to consistently get it right, regardless of how long he intends to stay.
Too many times over the past couple of years the fans’ expectations have risen on the back of a top performance only to be dashed in the next game when he fails to recreate the same level of dedication and end product.
But with a string of, what should be, easier fixtures on the horizon, Pogba needs to shut up his critics and play the way United supporters know that he can.