The Frenchman’s name had been in the headlines after his agent’s ill-judged transfer talk but he performed well against Sheffield United
The last few weeks have been difficult for Paul Pogba. Pilloried yet again by the club’s supporters in the wake of agent Mino Raiola’s ill-timed comments about a potential transfer away from Old Trafford on the eve of a crucial Champions League game against RB Leipzig, it was time to let his football do the talking.
“I’ve always fought and will always fight for Manchester United,” Pogba pledged on his Instagram account last weekend. And, no matter where his future lies, he showed with a polished display in the 3-2 win against Sheffield United in the Premier League that those were not just hollow words.
The vast majority of people have never doubted Pogba’s ability; it has been his consistency which has let him down. But, as the midfielder said himself, they are “stronger together”. That sentiment rang true as he inspired United to a come-from-behind victory – their 10th consecutive win in the league away from home.
He strolled around the Bramall Lane turf in cruise control picking out passes and, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had requested, dictating the play. He was the tower the team needed in the middle. He had that swagger in his step when he makes everything he does look simple.
His remarkable pass for Anthony Martial’s goal was described by some commentators as lucky, questioning whether he even meant it. The quick glance before he played it suggested otherwise.
The World Cup winner knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to deliver it. And that’s what he does so well – he can execute his vision with inch-perfect precision and control.
“We know his strength in the air, we knew he would be important on set-plays and I think he won more or less every header,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s performance. “His vision and creativity we also want and he’s responded really well to the work he’s been doing. He is fit now – excellent performance.”
Pogba has world-class talent but, for Man United, there have only been flashes of perfection and brilliance. If he adds that consistency there will be no stopping him.
Just look at the way he started the move for United’s third last night. The turf was his dance floor as he pirouetted past two players before releasing Bruno Fernandes to drive United’s counter-attack.
If he were to produce those match-winning pieces of skill every week, there would be more clamour from the fan base to keep the midfielder at the club beyond the end of his current contract.
In the future, be that next summer or the one after, they will have to look elsewhere for those moments of individual brilliance. Luckily, for Solskjaer, it wasn’t just Pogba chipping in with moments of perfection. Step forward, Marcus Rashford.
The England international’s finishing has been called into question on a number of occasions but his first touch and strike for United’s equaliser was up there with the quality and technique shown by the world’s best. The composed and clinical nature of his strike was a reminder of what he has in his locker as the team continue to fire blanks at Old Trafford.
The fact Martial is now finally off the mark in the league also pleased Solskjaer, heading into a busy fortnight. He has said he would know by the new year whether or not his team had what it takes to mount a title charge and this was a step in the right direction.
There can’t have been many people who would have thought Solskjaer would be legitimately fielding questions about a potential title race after losing three of their first four home league games this season – but that is the unique nature of this campaign.
The win against Sheffield United showed that they could do what they failed to do so many times last season and capitalise when those around them had dropped points.
Now they have seven more points than they did after 12 games last season and find themselves five points off league leaders Liverpool with a game in hand. There’s a long way to go and, if this team are serious about mounting any kind of challenge, they’re going to have to eradicate big mistakes from their game.
This time it was Dean Henderson, making just his second league start for the club against his former employers, who gifted the hosts the lead within four minutes. David McGoldrick’s finish meant that since the start of last season, only Newcastle (15) have made more errors leading to goals than United in the Premier League (10).
Solskjaer joked again that his team never like to do things the easy way.
“It’s just from when I was playing, we never seem to make it easy for ourselves,” he said. “Every game now is a cup final and it’s going to be relentless with game after game.”
But for now, it’s another three points in the bag and one step closer to that new year milestone when Solskjaer said he could really tell if his team were title contenders.
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