Pogba issue hanging over Man United
Manchester United may wonder which Paul Pogba is going to turn up when struggling West Bromwich Albion visit Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday.
Will it be the player who has disappointed for much of the season, or the one who lived up to his £89 million ($126 million) price tag for once with a match-changing second-half display against Manchester City last weekend.
Pogba scored twice in three minutes at the Etihad Stadium as United turned a two-goal deficit into a 3-2 victory, and in doing so forced their rivals to wait a little longer to secure the Premier League title.
Yet all that brilliance came after an opening 45 minutes that had been more typical of his club form this season; out of sorts, misplacing passes and lacking in verve.
When he is good, he is among the very best attacking midfielders in the world, but United have seen that form all too rarely of late.
Pogba’s working relationship with Jose Mourinho has been picked over repeatedly in recent months for clues as to why that is.
The United manager has rejected the idea that the midfielder is still suffering the effects of a hamstring injury picked up in September, which kept him out for two months.
So if the problem is not physical, the implication is that it must be psychological.
On that front, Mourinho dismissed as “lies” reports in February that the French star wanted to leave United.
However, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola then claimed a week ago that Pogba had been offered to his club in January by agent Mino Raiola.
Whatever actually happened there, it did nothing to suggest that all was harmonious between Pogba and United.
– ‘Alien genius’ –
France coach Didier Deschamps had already come to a similar conclusion, saying at the end of March that he did not believe the former Juventus player was happy at Old Trafford.
Days after Deschamps made those comments, Pogba scored a spectacular free-kick, and set up a goal for Kylian Mbappe, as France beat Russia 3-1 in a friendly.
It was another sign of just what the midfielder can do when he is in the right mood.
“He annoys me, because I know he’s capable of a hundred times more,” said Christophe Dugarry, a striker in France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side, this week.
Dugarry called Pogba an “alien genius”, but one who was too occupied with marketing himself on social media.
Mourinho could certainly be forgiven for wondering what might have been this season had Pogba shown any kind of consistency.
He had gone 21 club games without a goal before his two against Manchester City; had he been a little more prolific, then perhaps the Premier League title race would have been significantly closer.
As it is, there is only realistically second place to play for now.
Having shone against the division’s top team last weekend, Pogba should find it a stroll against bottom club Albion this Sunday, but Mourinho has learned to take nothing for granted.
He is keen to focus on ensuring that last weekend’s superb comeback against City does not curdle into complacency against West Brom.
“We have come from a big result,” he said. “During the week, I was trying to fight that result by working well and hard and making the players understand that it is not enough just to deserve second. We need the points.”
West Brom, meanwhile, have gone 10 games without a win now and another defeat at Old Trafford could see them relegated this weekend, depending on results elsewhere.
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