Paul Pogba scored twice in an unlikely second-half comeback against Manchester City - but has it convinced Jose Mourinho to build his team around the mercurial Frenchman?
But from somewhere, somehow, United turned the tide and delayed City’s Premier League title party just a little further with a rousing comeback inspired by a man who had been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Whether it is his questionable hairstyles, the questionable actions of his agent or just his questionable play, Pogba has not cut a happy figure in Manchester. Yet Saturday’s two-goal display was a timely reminder of why he was bought by United for a record fee in the first place.
Our writers Matt Monaghan, Chris Bailey and Tom Biggs have their say on whether Pogba has turned a corner at Old Trafford for good.
Will Pogba stay at Manchester United this summer?
MM: United, both on and off the pitch, have too much invested in Pogba to cut him loose after just two seasons. As his weekend brace showcased, a premium footballer lies within. Manager Jose Mourinho would not have been blind to what went on at Etihad Stadium. Kit sponsors adidas have also chosen to invest more than £780 million (Dh4 billion) in both club and player. Pogba’s star power is central to selling this relationship.
CB: Didn’t sound like such a foolish idea 48 hours ago, did it? But one display should not discount that he’s been routinely benched by Jose Mourinho and been offered to Man City by his own agent. It would still take a mega offer to convince both United and Pogba his future lies elsewhere without giving it another season at least. But what if Neymar leaves PSG and the French giants come sniffing? Stranger things …
TB: Say what? There’s no chance of Pogba leaving this summer. One reason being the fact no club would want to pay the fee Manchester United would be expecting for the midfielder, who cost over €100m (Dh451.7m) just two seasons ago. The other being his manager knows just how big an influence he has on the team when he’s at his best. Pogba isn’t going anywhere. His manager needs him.
Has Jose Mourinho been to blame for his poor form?
MM: Responsibility for Pogba’s slump must be shared. Mourinho only had to review an underwhelming Euro 2016 campaign as part of a deep-lying two-man midfield to ascertain the effectiveness of this deployment. Regular shifts since between a 4-2-3-1 and Pogba’s favoured 4-3-3 formations can’t help, either. Yet this alone doesn’t excuse a goal drought at club level that stretched to four months. Or the measly 74.1 per cent pass accuracy when Sevilla raided Old Trafford in the Champions League.
CB: When one of his players struggles to take instructions repeatedly, Mourinho has no qualms about giving them short shrift – regardless of star power or price tags. Luke Shaw is just one example. It stands to reason that Pogba will have been incredibly frustrating to work with this year, but when Mourinho’s patience snaps – as it clearly had done – it only worsens the problem for a player.
TB: Pogba and Mourinho must share the blame. The former Juventus man hasn’t looked interested at times, but that has perhaps stemmed from frustration born out of his manager’s cautious approach and setup. While Mourinho must give Pogba and United more freedom if they are to progress, the midfielder himself needs to step up on a regular basis, and not just when he’s in the mood, as he was on Saturday.
Who would be the ideal signing alongside Pogba?
MM: United should look to north London when it comes to bolstering their midfield. Aaron Ramsey’s delivered a superb seven assists and nine goals amid Arsenal’s miserable 2017/18. Pogba will be pleased to hear this has come as part of a midfield two, meaning he’d be freed to roam. The Wales international will also soon have just one year left on his deal – a situation United previously took advantage of with Robin van Persie and Alexis Sanchez.
CB: Pogba doesn’t do discipline – in fact, too much of it is a bad thing as it inhibits the Frenchman’s natural je ne sais quoi. A player with defensive nous and a passing range the size of the Himalayas would be handy. A player like that is not easy to come by, but Napoli’s Jorginho perhaps fits the bill. He has been instrumental in the club’s Serie A title challenge and at 26, wouldn’t be a young pup at the mercy of the Premier League.
TB: Mourinho needs a box-to-box midfielder to play alongside Pogba and the more defensive minded Nemanja Matic. The energy provided would allow the Frenchman more license to roam, just as he did to great effect in the second half against Manchester City. The best player to do that? If United can once again trump their Manchester rivals to a signing, as they did with Alexis Sanchez, then Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred would be ideal.