As a collective, Manchester United didn’t have to go through too many gears last night as they recorded a relatively routine 3-0 victory over Stoke City.
Although the manager-less Potters created a few dangerous moments in the first half, it proved to be a largely comfortable ninety minutes for the Red Devils in which David De Gea was rarely tested and their control of the game rarely relented.
That, however, owes much to perhaps the only United player who brought something more to the game than simply a consistent performance against relegation-threatened opposition at home – much-debated midfielder Paul Pogba.
At the end of December, Manchester United legend Paul Scholes, who certainly knows a thing or two about wreaking havoc in the engine room, declared that the Frenchman isn’t capable of being a match-winner and even accused him of strolling through games.
“Where is the Paul Pogba we saw at Juventus? He was all over the pitch, he was battling, he was tackling, he was sprinting to people, he was scoring goals from 25 yards out.
“He is just strolling through games. Pogba doesn’t look fit. I wonder whether he is training properly. He does not look like a player who will win you games and that is what you pay £90m for.”
But that certainly wasn’t the case last night, when we saw a real sense of urgency, ruthlessness and aggression to the 49-cap international’s game, especially when on the ball. In fact, no player touched the ball more times than Pogba, no player completed more dribbles and no player created more chances – including the two assists for the Red Devils’ opening goals.
And despite that clear directness to Pogba’s play, the midfielder still completed 91% of his passes in what was genuine passing masterclass from the United star.
These weren’t necessarily the types of games Scholes was talking about last month; Manchester United will always expect to beat a side in the relegation zone without a manager, especially at Old Trafford and with their best players available.
But it’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen that kind of passing display from Pogba this season and the former Juventus man is starting to deliver them on a far more consistent basis. If he’s not an out-and-out match-winner at this point, as Scholes argues, he’s currently the closest thing United have to one.