Premier League: No, Paul Pogba Isn't to Blame for Manchester United's Struggles
Paul Pogba is the easy one to blame.
Manchester United paid a record fee of £89 million for his services, and he was the cornerstone move in a summer of big-money shakeups -- including hiring Jose Mourinho, signing defender Eric Bailly, moving for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and landing striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- aimed at getting the Red Devils back to the top of the Premier League.
In all, the Red Devils forked out roughly £150 million in transfer fees this past summer, but things haven't gone as planned. United sit in sixth, four points out of a Champions League spot, and despite throwing around all that cash, the Red Devils aren't much better than they were a year ago -- when a fifth-place finish resulted in the sacking of then-manager Louis Van Gaal.
As the most expensive signing in soccer history, Pogba is an easy target. Ibrahimovic has been superb, netting 14 goals in 21 appearances, and Mourinho has a career resume very few managers can match. Pogba's surface numbers, meanwhile, are lacking as he's registered just four goals and three assists.
And he's done stuff like this in a big match against Liverpool, failing to capitalize on a great chance and then giving away a silly penalty with an unexplainable handball.
But when you take a deeper look at the numbers, the criticism just isn't warranted. In fact, the 23-year-old French international has been one of the best players in the Premier League.
Patrolling the left channel, Pogba is the third-best player in the league, per WhoScored's rating system. It's not just a WhoScored thing, though, as Squawka has Pogba ranked fifth among all Premier League players, according to their performance score rating.
Let's do a little blind player comparison, putting Pogba's stats up against a player no one would categorize as a disappointment this season. All stats below are rate stats, showing a per-match number.
|Stat||Player A||Paul Pogba|
|Pass Success Rate||84.4%||84.8%|
Player A is Eden Hazard, who may very well take home his second career PFA Player of the Year Award at season's end.
It's not a perfect comparison because Hazard is a bit more prone to go forward for Chelsea than Pogba is for Manchester United, but the numbers bear that out. Hazard has put the ball in the back of the net more than Pogba, but the Red Devil has done considerably more defensive work than Hazard.
Pogba's 72.5 passes per game rank second in the league, trailing only Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (86.9). Among players who have attempted at least 70 passes per match, Pogba's 84.4% success rate checks in third.
Pogba could stand to be more involved in goals, either by directly setting them up or scoring them, but that's never really been his game. In his previous three seasons with Italian giant Juventus, Pogba averaged 7.7 goals and 7.3 assists per year. If he plays 35 matches this season, at his current pace, he'll end up with 6.6 goals and 4.9 assists -- a drop from what he did with Juve but nothing too crazy.
There's also the not-so-small factor of age. Ideally, Mourinho and United paid all that paper for what Pogba will be, not what he is right now. With that said, Pogba is really darn good right now. So, United have got themselves a guy who is currently one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, per the numbers, and he's just 23 years of age. How is that anything but a great move?
Narratives are part of sports culture. Sometimes, narratives can be true, but a lot of the time narratives are a farce -- like saying Tom Brady plays better when he's mad or that Ezekiel Elliott helped the Dallas Cowboys' defense (he didn't), to use some examples from another sport.
The narrative at play here is that Pogba wasn't worth the large investment. In reality, though, he's one of the best players in the sport, with metrics to back it up, and he's got the prime of his career ahead of him. If a 23-year-old who is already one of the best in the world at his position isn't worth the money, then no one is.