Make no mistake about it, I don't for one minute think that Paul Pogba is worth the eye watering transfer fee that United paid for him back in 2016. I've been his biggest critic, and its clear that he is a free-spirited enigma that in many ways is Jose Mourinho's antithesis.
But yet despite his flaws and attitude issues that have consistently undermined both player and manager Mourinho, there can be no denying that this Manchester United side is a much better one with the World Cup winning Frenchman at the heart of it. The stats almost inconclusively prove this.
Pogba started 25 Premier League games in 2017-18, with United winning 16 of those, drawing five and losing four times.
Of those remaining 13 matches, United won nine times, drew once and
lost three – at Huddersfield, Chelsea and against Manchester City at Old
Trafford. United’s win % with Pogba in the team is over 65%. Pogba played a starring role as we improbably turned the tide in the corresponding derby fixture last season, without him there was never a hope this time.
Instrumental in recent recoveries against Newcastle (where he played as part of an unorthodox back three), Chelsea, Bournemouth and Juventus - everything went through Pogba. Yet in the stagnation of the first Manchester derby of the season, everything slumped to a stuttering, static and stifling halt, with an £89m faultline in the middle of the team. I'm not for one minute suggesting that we would have beaten City with him or not, but the fact that he would have been the one player City didn't want to see on our team sheet speaks volumes.
City monopolised possession and had 65% of the ball, no surprise for a side that treat the ball like a baby under the tutelage of a manager who demands total superiority. Whilst United did sit back, in Pogba's absence there was no one to break up play to disrupt City's irrepressible rhythm, no one to pass the ball and drive with it and no one to start attacks from deep and link the play. His surging runs, rapier like passing and pace, power and mobility were conspicous by their absence and allowed City to win the midfield battle and take control of the match. City were also without their star man Kevin de Bruyne, but whereas Pep was able to bring in a like for like replacement in Bernardo Silva, we had to go with the cumbersome battering ram of Marouane Fellaini whom, to his credit, stuck to his task amirably. But he, along with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic, aren't fit for purpose.
With his creative, string-pulling abilities Mourinho’s men are more adventurous and prepared to get onto the front foot.
They see more of the ball when Pogba is around, with his qualities
helping to both win it back and keep it moving, while their passing
accuracy in the final third – where it really matters – also improves
noticeably when a key creative cog is present.
Pogba has had a lot of stick - some of it justified, some of it not - but he remains Man Utd's key man. We better hope he's fit for the Palace game in two weeks time.