Belfast Telegraph

Pogba is proving £89m worth by sparking Manchester United back to life

By Glenn Moore

Four months into the season, there is finally a sense that the football is taking centre stage at Old Trafford. After three wins on the bounce and a string of improved performances, the juggernaut is rolling and the background noise diminishing.

And just as the team may be on the cusp of being discussed without endless references to their manager Jose Mourinho's behaviour, Paul Pogba could be about to shake off the constant references to his transfer fee.

In the 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Wednesday, Pogba gave his best display since returning to Manchester for a world record £89m, four years after leaving for nothing. For the first time in the same match he both created and scored, confirming him as the game's dominant figure.

There were three French internationals in the midfield. Of the other two, Mathieu Flamini lasted only 45 minutes and Yohan Cabaye was reduced to chasing Pogba for 90.

Cabaye is a very fine player, justifiably hailed as a marquee signing when he joined Palace in 2015. The previous year he had been Pogba's senior partner in France's World Cup midfield. But at Selhurst Park he looked like the little kid in the playground trying to compete with the bigger boys.

Time and again Pogba passed the ball around, or skipped away from his compatriot. He was aided by having more talented team-mates, but the build-up to the winner summed up the gulf.

As the ball was played into Pogba, Cabaye went in to challenge. Pogba turned his body, enabling him to receive the ball, as he so often does, on the half-turn, and simultaneously eased Cabaye aside leaving him on the floor. As Cabaye appealed for a foul, Pogba strode forward, drew Palace's defence then slipped an angled pass to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede did the rest.

Pogba also scored - albeit he was offside and aided by Ibrahimovic's handball - drew a fine save from Wayne Hennessey with a volley, dipped a shot just over the bar and created a good chance for Wayne Rooney.

In between he did the quiet stuff, circulating the ball, showing his excellent first touch and often his quick feet, and pushing United forward. Like all the top players, he seemed to have time and space.

His improved form can be attributed to having re-familiarised himself with the pace of the English game, and Mourinho finding a midfield platform that suits him. Michael Carrick's reassuring presence behind Pogba, and ability to rotate possession, has been a key factor. So, too, the disciplined energy of Ander Herrera alongside.

There was, though, one other significant aspect about the goal. It came after Marcus Rashford had replaced Rooney, and Jesse Lingard come on for Juan Mata.

Rooney had a decent match, but rarely held his position on the left. With Mata drifting in from the right and Ibrahimovic often dropping deep, United lacked width and the midfield was congested.

When Pogba shook off Cabaye, Rashford was getting chalk on his boots on the left, Lingard was to the right, Ibrahimovic high. That left space which Pogba was able to drive into, before finding Ibrahimovic's run.

So Mourinho still has conundrums to solve when it comes to the balance of his attack, but he will have been cheered by the obvious rapport between his goalscorers, on and off the pitch.

If Pogba can bring the best from both himself and Ibrahimovic, and so drive United to Champions League qualification, he will go a long way towards paying off a hefty chunk of that world record fee.

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