Man of the Match against Stoke City was a hard one to call. Anthony Martial was a constant threat and finished with a quite brilliant goal and assist and Romelu Lukaku was superb all night. His hold up play, which has taken much stick since his arrival at Old Trafford, has been good for the last few weeks, but on Monday it was as good as ever. His movement showed what Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t bring last season and he thoroughly deserved to get on the score sheet with a well-taken goal in the second half.
But, it was not quite enough to steal the award away from the quite fantastic Paul Pogba who controlled the game from the first minute to the last. I want to start mentioning a slight negative of his game last night which is his normal downfall and that is in defence. First half, Stephen Ireland got into some really dangerous positions in the United box and on another day could have scored a couple. Time and again this season, with Pogba playing in a 2 alongside Nemanja Matic, United get exposed by midfield runners and the majority of the time this comes from either the Frenchman being out of position or being lazy when tracking runners. United should be playing a 3 in midfield rather than 2 with one in front, because it gives them that extra security in defence. The Everton game was a good example of that, when Herrera played alongside Matic and Pogba and defensively they looked much stronger. Against Stoke, United got away with it but something they need to be aware of against the top sides.
That apart, Pogba was in majestic form on the ball. Kevin de Bruyne takes many plaudits most weeks for his displays for City, and rightly so, but Pogba possesses as much if not more ability than the magic Belgian. His range of passing is as good and his ability in and around the box to pick out passes is on par. They also have a similar presence when on the ball, both the with the ability to seemingly glide past players. Where de Bruyne is currently better is his return of goals and consistency. A number of times this season, de Bruyne has dominated the big games as well as the small, scoring goals and picking up assists, Pogba is yet to really dominate the big games. If he can do this and chip in with more goals then there is no reason why he shouldn’t be spoken about in the same breath as the City player.
On the ball, Pogba oozed class, his close control and skills are at times a joy to watch and last night he found the right balance of arrogance. At times he can overplay due to this trait and last night he found the right time to stamp his authority and play the ball at the right opportunity. Time and time again he would pick out sweeping passes across the Old Trafford pitch, one in particular in the first half, with his weaker foot, pinging a 40-yard ball into the path of Luke Shaw to create a reasonable chance for Martial. It was his range of passing that was so impressive, added to the long-range passes were intricate passes around the Stoke box and no more so than for the 2 assists he picked up. For Antonio Valencia’s superb opener, he drove at the Stoke defence before guiding the ball out to Valencia who then smashed an unbeatable strike past Jack Butland. The second was even better. Picking up the ball outside the Stoke box, and playing a brilliant reverse pass into the path of Martial who once again stroked the ball into the top right-hand corner. The pace of the pass was perfect to allow Martial to hit it first time, it looked simple but was far from it.
Pogba continued to dominate the second half as the game became a procession, with more brilliant link-up play with Martial, Lukaku and Lingard. He wasn’t quite as dominant as he was first half, but some brilliant passages of play in the last 15 minutes were enough to give him Man of the Match. If Alexis Sanchez comes to Old Trafford, it will be interesting to see how he changes the dynamic of the team, but he will give Pogba more options to pick out passes to create goalscoring chances. It can only be a positive move for the club and Pogba specifically.
It wasn’t perfect from Pogba, but he showed what he brings to this United side as an attacking force. He is their main man and it is imperative Mourinho finds the right balance to get the best out of him without impacting on the defensive qualities of the team. There are few worries with his attacking ability, let’s hope it continues into the final few months of the season and he dominates against the top sides. But against Stoke, he looked an absolute class above.