Paul Pogba injury: Why Manchester United will miss him
By Ben McAleer, WhoScored.com
Last Updated: 17/09/17 7:37am
How much will Manchester United miss Paul Pogba? Ben McAleer of WhoScored.com looks at the stats.
"In my experience, muscular injury stops you from playing for a few weeks," Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho said following their 3-0 win over Basel on Tuesday night. However, while United celebrated their return to the Champions League with the points, the victory was tainted when Paul Pogba was forced off after just 19 minutes in midweek.
The France midfielder was captaining the Premier League title contenders for the first time in his career, yet a joyous occasion rapidly turned sour. The three points were, of course, the priority for Mourinho and his side, and rightly so, but they would have preferred Pogba to have been on the pitch to celebrate the win rather than watching on from the sidelines.
That he departed Old Trafford on crutches would not have eased concerns either and his absence will undoubtedly hinder United. They have started the campaign at full throttle, but Pogba's injury will certainly knock them down a gear. The 24-year-old is the Premier League's highest rated player after four games, with a WhoScored.com rating of 8.09.
Two goals and two assists means only team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan and striker Alvaro Morata (both with five) have been directly involved in more Premier League goals this season than Pogba. But he has delivered more than just goals and assists - Pogba has been the heartbeat of this fluid United side.
While United floundered in the league in his second stint back in Manchester, Pogba was arguably the club's best player, even allowing for Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goals or David de Gea's consistency between the sticks.
He may have come under staunch criticism from some quarters of the football fanbase, but his form helped him earn a WhoScored.com rating of 7.72, the third best in England's top tier last term. The former Juventus player may have had his doubters, yet those who watched him week in and week out knew just how key he was in the middle of the park.
Of course, there was room for improvement. At his age, there are rough edges to Pogba's game that need to be ironed out. That being said, his early season form suggested he was taking his game to the next level. Much of that was due to United's summer activity, which saw them spend big on players that suited Pogba's style of play.
Indeed, the club invested heavily to build the team around the midfielder. When handed the freedom and attacking outlets to express himself, Pogba has the means to grab games by the scruff of the neck and win them on his own. The capture of Nemanja Matic was significant in this regard, even if his form has fluctuated in recent seasons.
Matic's defensive discipline has been vital for both United and Pogba, with the Serb's willingness to sit deep and break up play helping to drive the team forward. The former Chelsea man is making more tackles per Premier League game (2.5) than any other United player and the third most interceptions (1.8).
Not only does this allow for the full-backs to push forward in support, but it allows Pogba to press forward from deep to provide a further outlet. Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and one of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial may be the designated trio behind the lone frontman, but their constant movement opens up space for Pogba to exploit too.
In addition, the arrival of Romelu Lukaku has helped Pogba too. Ibrahimovic, for all his qualities, has a distinct playing style that often meant attacks were funnelled through the 35-year-old. Not only did this mean that if he was robbed of possession then offensive moves would break down, but it resulted in a more one dimensional United.
In Lukaku, though, Pogba has a different outlet. A prolific target man, but one able to make clever runs off the ball and behind defences to put opponents to the sword. It's no shock that only Mkhitaryan has made more accurate through balls than Pogba in the Premier League this season now they have a more mobile frontman leading the attack.
However, with Pogba now sidelined for the foreseeable future, United's attacking intensity will not be the same, if only for a few weeks. In the matches the midfielder sat out last season, they lacked the same attacking vigour to hurt opponents.
He will be missed for this weekend's Super Sunday welcome of Everton, while United are also set to be without him for their Champions League meeting with CSKA Moscow and, crucially, the visit to Liverpool next month. Should United's form ease off over the coming weeks, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise
Mourinho's key man has been vital in their rise to the Premier League's summit, yet the manager is now without a player who is able to drive the team forward from midfield. It may not have too big an effect on United's quest for success in the long run, but this is a significant obstacle that they must overcome if they are to solidify their title credentials.