Paul Pogba possesses unquestionable ability to add to his great potential. The monumental Frenchman seems to have been around a while but is still only 23 years of age, and frequent comparisons to renowned fellow Frenchman Zinedine Zidane add to his already enormous image. But, is Pogba capable of matching the achievements of the great Zizou? Or does his ability fall below the current Real Madrid manager’s limit?
Let’s begin with their preferred positions on the field. Whereas Zidane was primarily classed as an attacking midfielder, Pogba is a central midfielder who is plotted in both defensive and attacking positions by his club and national team manager. Current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has placed Pogba as one of the two holding midfielders in his system and at other times deployed Pogba as the number 10. However, in all truth, asking Pogba to focus on the defensive duty of a midfielder limits his main talents, whilst at number 10 there is insufficient space for Pogba to make a trademark burst through the pitch. Therefore, it is best for him to be on the left side of a midfield three so that one of his partners is covering for him deeper on the field and another of his teammates is joining in with him on the attack, as shown by Carrick and Herrera’s roles in the reds midfield trio. Pogba’s ability as the left-sided central midfielder is further enhanced when the stats from his final season during his Juventus spell, obtained from WhoScored, show that Pogba claimed eight goals and a league-high 12 assists for that particular season in that position.
When it comes to playing style, the differences in physical build contribute to a range of skills between them. Zidane graced the field with his elegant touch and masterful dribbles while Pogba, also an exceptional dribbler, has his own style of towering and powering past opponents. For a tall and slender midfielder, though, Pogba has major technical attributes to his game.
On international duty, the duo had both made their debut at the age of 20. Although, Pogba has a long way to match Zidane’s success. Zizou, at the age of 22, appeared in his first tournament for France in the 1996 Euros, held in England. Zidane, though, wasn’t really their established star by this event and despite scoring in the penalty shootouts for the quarter and semi-finals; he couldn’t make a greater impact as France left the tournament at the semi-finals. The following major international tournaments, World Cup 1998 (held in France) and Euro 2000, were where Zidane stamped his name in the history books. Zizou dragged his team to the final on both occasions where his state was victorious. Current France international Pogba also was presented the chance to similarly lead his nation to glory when his first major international competition, Euro 2016 presented itself in France. Les Bleus reached the terminal stage of the tournament, but a defeat in extra-time left Portugal as the champions. Furthermore, 23-year-old Pogba failed to make a memorable impact like Zidane did and even though he scored in the quarter-final dismantling of Iceland, his position of a holding midfielder (as spoken of above) possibly restricted him as he was overshadowed by teammates Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann throughout the competition. Time will tell if he will be granted another opportunity like this.
On the other hand, in club football, Pogba will inevitably be given the time to match Zidane’s accomplishments. The legendary attacking midfielder won league titles in Italy, with Juventus, and Spain, with Real Madrid. Zidane also has a UEFA Champions League to his list of honours, and an iconic volley in the final of this competition means we can hardly forget. Nevertheless, Pogba, who broke the world record transfer fee like Zidane, already has a league triumph in Italy with Juventus to his name but more league titles and a European champions medal are still pending on Pogba’s list. With time on his side, can he be the one to take United back to the top of English and European football?
So, what is apparent is that even though the honours needed for Pogba to match Zidane seem difficult to overcome, United’s current number six has the advantage of time with him, as his career is yet to truly take off. Maybe one day we’ll speak of Pogba as one of the game’s greats but for now, he needs to focus on performing the best he can for Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho’s predecessor Louis van Gaal made two of the most exciting signings in the Premier League (in contrast to his football) during the 2015 summer transfer window. The former reds gaffer brought his fellow Dutchman Memphis Depay to Old Trafford whilst also attracting Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton to Manchester. But, 18 months on, the duo are likely to find their way out of Old Trafford following a lack of opportunities from Mourinho. Upon Memphis’ arrival at Manchester United, Van Gaal said;
“I was forced to handle [the situation] as a manager because, otherwise, he was going to PSG, that’s why I had to sign him and we’ve done it within one day.”
The fact that the deal for the sought-after winger was completed extremely quickly suggested that Van Gaal was eager to have Memphis within his ranks. A player, who presented glimpses of his brilliance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup under Van Gaal, created an elated atmosphere when his signing to United was announced. Even more so when he was given the number seven jersey (after Angel Di Maria’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain), his comparable characteristics to Ronaldo in the form of a swift, right-footed left-winger with a deadly shot on goal, gave United fans a rush of blood which they hadn’t felt for a prolonged period before. Nonetheless, when Memphis was put on the field in the 2015/16 season, sporadic flashes of genius weren’t enough to convince the fans, and manager, that Memphis could become like the legendary Portuguese. With Anthony Martial’s instant impact at the club alongside Rashford’s remarkable rise to the first-team, Memphis dropped lower and lower down Van Gaal’s pecking order.
The summer of 2016 saw Mourinho appointed Manchester United manager. Here, there was a chance for Memphis to impress his manager and state a claim in the starting eleven. An Instagram video here and there through the summer showing Memphis putting in extra training, as a result of his nation Holland unable to qualify for Euro 2016, failed to have the desired effect on the manager. Instead, Mourinho preferred the tried-and-tested talent of Martial on the left of his attacking three, leaving Memphis’ ability on the bench or in the stands. Although, the winger didn’t form much of a response when he was granted his first start under Mourinho at Northampton Town in the EFL Cup, leaving a poor performance after 55 minutes.
On the other hand, Schneiderlin’s departure could be seen as unfortunate for the Frenchman. After establishing himself in central midfield with Southampton, Schneiderlin made the switch to Old Trafford for a fee in the region of £25 million. Simultaneous to the announcement, he said;
“Once I learned that United were interested in signing me, it was a very easy decision to make.”
The former saints man, who was regarded as the long-term replacement to Michael Carrick, was supposedly a good-luck charm during his debut season at the club. From August 2015 to March 2016, United had lost only two of the 26 games he had started whereas when he wasn’t included in the starting line-up they were defeated in eight out of the 18 games. Coincidence? Not according to the stats!
Despite this, Mourinho wasn’t his biggest enthusiast when he took over as manager. The former Chelsea boss didn’t see Schneiderlin as a capable partner of Paul Pogba, and preferred Marouane Fellaini’s sturdy presence in midfield at the start of the season, but has now settled on a trio of Pogba, Carrick, and Ander Herrera to take the reds forward.
So, even though the two talented additions to the club could’ve been given another chance to manifest their attributes to Mourinho and his staff, the high competition for places at Old Trafford means that they’re probably better plying their trade away from Manchester. It is unlikely either will stay at Old Trafford beyond January, with other clubs sniffing the chance to grasp the two. Memphis is a target of Ronald Koeman of Everton, the Toffees manager said;
“I would like to have him. I think he is an interesting player. He has great individual qualities.”
Furthermore, Schneiderlin was subject to a bid from West Bromwich Albion and Jose Mourinho spoke on Friday claiming that the midfielder has asked for a move away from the club, saying;
“Yes. He’s a great professional, a fantastic boy. He’s very honest and very open.
“To be honest, he opened his heart a couple of times, and my answer is simple; if he’s playing regularly with me, I have the right to say ‘no way’. If he’s not playing regularly, I have no right to tell a player who wants to be happy, I have no right to say ‘you are going nowhere’.
“My answer was: if the offer is right, and our board thinks the offer is a good offer in relation to the quality of a very good player like Morgan, then I would not stop him going.”
Whether they prove that they can sustain their form at the highest level remains to be seen.
The UEFA Europa League is most certainly not where Manchester United would like to be at the moment. Built on domestic and European success, the reds are expected to be competing in club football’s top competition on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. However, after a fifth place finish in the 2015/16 season domestic season, much was spoken of the dreaded effect the Europa League could have. A Thursday night fixture (possibly on the other side of the continent) can negatively impact the result in the Premier League the following weekend as players feel tiredness and fatigue. So, what do the results so far this season suggest about this subject? Is there any truth in the substance or is it all a myth?
United began their Europa League campaign in the middle of September when they faced a trip to Feyenoord of Holland, following Jose Mourinho’s first official defeat as United boss in a 2-1 loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford. Mourinho claimed that he was ‘desperate’ for September, per the Mirror, in order to give opportunities to players lacking game time such as the likes of Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Morgan Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick and Memphis Depay. So, when the time commenced, Mourinho rotated his side to start these players but used Memphis off the bench whereas Carrick was an unused substitute. Despite the fresh legs, the reds produced a lacklustre display to fall to a 1-0 defeat as part of a miserable run of games. The following Sunday saw United travel to Watford, hoping to avoid three losses in a row in all competitions. Unfortunately, even with Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic restored to the starting eleven, Mourinho’s side fell to a 3-1 defeat.
United went into the second round of Europa League fixtures off the back of a thrilling 4-1 win over the champions, Leicester City, at Old Trafford. They faced relatively unknown opponents Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford but a side fielding a lot of regular players plus Sergio Romero and Timothy Fosu-Mensah found it difficult to break down the visitors, as they scraped at 1-0 win due to an Ibrahimovic header. Following this result, the reds competed on the Sunday against Stoke City at Old Trafford. Anthony Martial scored the opening goal in the 69th minute after United wasted a string of clear chances, which they were made to pay when Stoke City snatched a late equaliser.
Going into the third round of Europa League games, United had faced Liverpool at Anfield on Monday before returning home to play Fenerbahce of Turkey on Thursday. On this occasion, the reds pulled together as Paul Pogba and co. strode to an impressive 4-1 victory, whilst Robin van Persie grabbed a consolation goal for the Dutch club on his Old Trafford return. A Premier League match once more awaited United on the weekend and this time a trip to Chelsea saw the reds get hammered 4-0 by the blues.
United opened November by making their way to Turkey in order to play Fenerbahce in their fourth game of the Europa League group stage. Two stunning goals from the home side meant that United left the Eastern European country empty-handed in a 2-1 defeat. So, how did they cope back in the Premier League? Mourinho’s United met Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium and put in a convincing display which saw Ibrahimovic bag a brace and Pogba plant a typical long-range strike into the top left of the keeper, in a 3-1 success.
In the penultimate group game of the Europa League, Mourinho’s men had Feyenoord at Old Trafford to cope with. Rooney, Juan Mata, an own goal and Jesse Lingard inspired United to a 4-0 triumph. Although on return to the Premier League they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against West Ham United at home, leaving them sliding away from the top four.
Manchester United finished off the Europa League group stage requiring a point to guarantee a place in the knockout stages. Mourinho, taking no chances, took all the big guns to the Ukraine and came out with a well-earned 2-0 win. The long travel across Europe didn’t seem to affect the reds on the Sunday after when Tottenham Hotspur visited Old Trafford. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had established himself in the starting XI following a string of impressive performances, scored the only goal of the game to give United a valuable 1-0 win.
So, what kind of impact did the schedule of playing Thursday to Sunday have on the team’s performance and result? Regrettably, as expected, the energy levels of the Premier League performance were lowered, leaving United far off the top of the table and falling behind in the top four race.