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How to evaluate Paul Pogba?

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Ask yourself: Who is the most divisive player in the Premier League?

Even if you hadn’t already seen the headline of this article, one name would undoubtedly come to your mind before all others. Paul Pogba.

The moment Pogba arrived at Old Trafford from Juventus for a then-world record transfer fee, the toothpaste was out of the tube, never to find its way back inside. The takes came flying from all angles, blanketing social media, and producing foam at the mouths of television pundits and analysts. Those have yet to cease or even slow, with every single performance somehow stoking the flames on both sides of the debate.

Is Pogba a flop, or is he a world-class player stuck in a mediocre squad bringing him down?

To even begin answering that without spitting hot fire, we first must figure out how to fairly evaluate the performances of such a discordant presence as the 26-year-old Frenchman. Before we analyze what standards are fair and what are not, let’s look at a snapshot of the fire takes that television and social media spewed after the 2-0 loss at the hands of title favorites Manchester City.

Phew. Take a breather, you earned it. Not easy to navigate the minefield. Now that you’ve safely made it here, let’s look at this introspectively – what are the standards by which we should judge Paul Pogba? For a player who has won a World Cup, 4 Scudettos, a Europa League, and an EFL Cup plus reached a Champions League final, there’s a lot of negativity out there.

Naturally, the first and easiest (laziest?) standard to mention for any non-defender is goals. Ultimately, it seems harsh to judge a central midfielder by his goals tally, but Pogba has scored 52 league goals in his career plus another 54 assists, a stunning amount for a player who doesn’t have the same attacking responsibilities as other attacking midfielders like Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, or Gylfi Sigurdsson.

But is Pogba even a central midfielder? Is he better in a more of an attacking role, and therefore goals and assists should be expected? To judge Pogba fairly, it’s prudent to determine his best position, but if two Red Devil managers can’t even seem to do that, how are we meant to even begin solving that predicament? Pogba has improved his xG per shot value significantly each year at Manchester United, moving from a paltry 0.07 his first season to 0.10 and now 0.16, suggesting he is moving further forward into better attacking positions as his Manchester United career progresses. Whether that reflects an improvement as a player or a change in position is up for debate.

Jose Mourinho infamously locked Pogba into a deeper, more shackled role his first season at United, and while it understandably limited the electricity Pogba was able to provide, he actually performed quite well in the role. Pogba scored just five goals and assisted four, but he completed 1.8 tackles per 90 minutes, recorded 1.0 interceptions per 90, and cleared the ball 1.4 times that season, all highs for his time at Manchester United. This season, those numbers are down to 1.3 tackles, 0.5 interceptions, and 1.0 clears. Interestingly enough, all Pogba’s Manchester United defensive numbers are lower than when he was at Juventus, likely a product of both a more central role and a more defensive league in Serie A.

So should Manchester United build its formation with the 26-year-old as its focal point? Pogba excelled at Juventus in the spotlight, and despite fewer passes completed per 90 minutes (48.5 per 90 his last season with Juventus, lower than any year at Manchester United), he still managed the same amount of key passes at around 1.5 per 90 minutes, more efficient in Italy than he has been in England. Despite higher passing numbers, Pogba has a less visible role at Manchester United next to other midfielders like Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Fred, and that could affect his perceptive contribution. He also has less adept defensive talent, with guys like Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira, Stefano Sturaro, Giorginio Chiellini, and Leonardo Bonucci to lean on through the middle at his previous stop, allowing him more freedom to venture forward without worrying about what happens behind him.

Against Manchester City, Pogba was given a heavy role in attacking build-up play, finishing with a team-high in shots and attacking-third passes. And yet…he didn’t really do THAT much.

Two chances created is good, and he contributed a bit defensively with two tackles, but it still feels a bit static. Still, that’s not all his fault. With Fred next to him struggling mightily to cover the back line, Pogba was unable to truly be a force carrying the ball forward and dishing to teammates. This begs the question, is Pogba not good enough to carry a team, or does he have too much on his shoulders?

Given Pogba’s fluid positional role, we move to the other heavy debate regarding the Frenchman – club vs. country. Many criticize Pogba for playing better for Les Blues than for Manchester United, but is it fair to compare the two? In his 2018 World Cup run, Pogba excelled, both as a locker room presence and an on-field star. Still, many believed that France won the tournament without playing to its full potential, at times looking lethargic and overly compact. If he has different roles between the two, it becomes more difficult to directly compare the performances.

That begs the question…is that what Pogba’s game has become? Contribute with fewer flashy moments but doing the dirty work, playing a possessional style of midfield role that racks up the short passes and excels at positioning but with less noticeable moments? One tool in Pogba’s arsenal that has stayed consistent throughout his entire career is his ability to ping a long-ball, a skill he gets very little credit for publicly. This was on display against Manchester City, dropping a dime to a streaking Jesse Lingard at the far post in the 16th minute, one which Lingard somehow missed with an off-balance one-touch shot to the far corner.

Pogba’s long-ball rate is among the best in the Premier League for outfield players, with his 4.7 per 90 rate good for third among midfielders, with only Ruben Neves and Granit Xhaka owning a better mark. He was 7/9 on long balls against Manchester City, and while many of those were switches of play, Pogba’s long-distance ability is a weapon from anywhere on the pitch.

It’s impossible to deny that Pogba is no longer the flashy superstar he was at Juventus, and part of analyzing his contributions on the field now is to determine why that is. Has he really fallen off the table, or is he just a different player now? If he’s different, how is he different and is it for better, for worse, or both?

Feeding the narrative is the team’s inability to perform in big games over the course of his Manchester United career. This season, Manchester United has beaten up on the lower teams in the table, but they’ve come up empty against rivals. The club has scored just two goals in its last five matches against top five sides, and aside from 2-2 draws with Chelsea and Arsenal, Manchester United has failed to score more than one goal in any match against a top five side this season. Pogba has failed to score any of his 13 goals this season against top five sides, and has just one assist in those matches, feeding the Rashford winner against Spurs (another long-ball gem).

Still, compared to most other similar players, Pogba outclasses them all on the statistical attacking radar. A similar player in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic? Close, but no. Wolves breakout star Ruben Neves? Again, almost there, but lacking the goalscoring and the consistency. Same with Belgian youngster Youri Tielemans. How about a more attacking player in Felipe Anderson? Not there yet. Potential replacement Adrien Rabiot? Only the attacking monstrosity in PSG boosts the buildup numbers, but the direct offensive contribution isn’t in the same zip code. One man attacking wizard Wilfried Zaha? Somehow still not meeting Pogba’s level. You have to elevate to an attacking midfielder of Christian Eriksen’s level to find a match.

And yet, some will say – with validity – shouldn’t Pogba be expected to maintain a class of his own given the price Manchester United paid? And we’re back to square one.

So, with all this in mind…is there a conclusion on Paul Pogba here? That wasn’t the point. The above was just meant to guide you on your journey to your own hot take. Was Pogba worth his price? Has Pogba regressed since moving to Old Trafford, or has he simply adapted? Should United consider replacing him with a player on lower wages? These are all valid questions that still need answering, but there’s likely more to come on those fronts as well.

Ultimately, a hot-button player like Pogba will produce piles of debate material, but before any takes can be reasonably digested, it is prudent to ponder how to evaluate a player of his caliber and skill set, and what values on the field are more significant towards his contribution than others. None of this information is relevant if a decision can’t be made on what we want from the Frenchman. There’s no question, however, that Manchester United still has a long way to go to reach the heights of old, and whether Pogba is a player good enough at the right places to be a part of that potential revival is a valid debate.

Picking a favorite Premier League era player for all 20 current clubs

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Surely you’ve seen the lists circulating for at least one sport during this coronavirus quarantine.

Who’s your favorite player from every team in a top league?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We definitely want to see your lists, but won’t dodge the duty of putting together a 20-pack of our own.

The only two parameters are that the player spent the lion’s share of his career — or career so-far — with the team in question or had a significant historical moment with the club, and that he played during the Premier League era.

There will be the appearance of recency bias for some of these clubs whose PL existence doesn’t run back too far.

And there’s also the challenge that comes with certain players just striking our fancy at any given time.

Arsenal — It just has to be Thierry Henry.  The French magician elevated the beauty of the game, even if you didn’t like his particular club.

Aston Villa — Oddly enough as an American, I’m not going with one of the Brads (Freidel or Guzan). I’m also going with a player who’s playing just his second season with the club. Tyrone Mings is a fearless defender with an old-school ethic. One of the scariest players in the league today.

Bournemouth — Wanted to cheat and say Eddie Howe, but the Cherries weren’t in the PL when he was a player. I’ll take one of the two closest things to Howe on the current roster and that is Steve Cook (honorable nod to Simon Francis). Cook has appeared a record 329 times for the Cherries beginning at the League One level in 2011. Massive respect to a mainstay who isn’t even the first Steve Cook that shows up on a Google search.

Brighton and Hove Albion — I’m sure there’s a subset of Seagulls supporters who haven’t yet forgiven Glenn Murray for his time at M23 Derby rivals Palace, but I love that the 36-year-old is still bagging goals in his second 100-plus appearance stint with the club.

Burnley — Tom Heaton may be the most underappreciated keeper to don an England shirt, and he’s twice led the Clarets into the Premier League. Now in a different claret shirt, he’s not forgotten.

Chelsea — Love the helmet. Love the saves. Love the rock drumming and the post-soccer hockey career. Petr Cech, all the way. In time, though, this could become Cesar Azpilicueta or, for obvious reasons, Christian Pulisic.

Crystal Palace — Mile Jedinak. I loved the guy not just for being a tremendous and intimidating midfielder, but because he might’ve kept all sorts of items in his dense beard.

Everton — Come on. Too easy.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Leicester City — This one’s tricky via our rules, as he’s won the league with two different teams and has spent longer with the second one but N’Golo Kante made his name on the Foxes’ miracle title team. In time, he may be looked at as a player who revolutionized or at least brilliantly refined his position. If you must have another name, pretend I chose Kasper Schmeichel.

Liverpool — This one may surprise given the amount of attacking and eye-catching talent to roam Anfield, but there are few players I enjoyed watching more than Martin Skrtel. I once saw a cartoon image of him eating nails out of a cereal bowl and considered for a moment that it might be part of his diet.

Manchester City — Tricky one, this. James Milner at this point seems destined to be remembered as a Liverpool man, don’t you think? Ultimately, I’m going to overlook how slimy agent Dimitry Seluk tried to derail my love for Yaya Toure, one of the characters of the game with an almost unrivaled skill set. Also, the birthday cake thing is still pretty funny.

Manchester United — Roy Keane just over Nemanja Vidic.

Newcastle United — A tough one for me, who has found appeal with a number of players to don the black and white stripes. Alan Shearer’s legend helped shape my love for the game and Shay Given performing well above his size makes him high on the list. But for some reason the cerebral and physical play of club leader Fabricio Coloccini makes him my favorite player in the world. I didn’t say I was normal.

Norwich City — Shout out to Nathan Redmond, but I can’t get the early season heroics of 30-going-on-50 striker Teemu Pukki out of my mind here. Emi Buendia has a shot here if Norwich can stay up and he doesn’t bolt for another club.

Sheffield United —  ITough one here, as Blades spent only three PL season prior to this one and two were when I was in middle school. I like John Lundstram over club heroes Phil Jagielka and Billy Sharp.

Southampton — Tough one here as Saints have had so many players shine for them only to become firmly associated with other clubs. I loved Virgil van Dijk back to his Celtic days but he’s undoubtedly Liverpool at this point. Give me Adam Lallana and a pair of crossed fingers that he returns to St. Mary’s to remind us of the man who scored 59 times with 48 assists after coming out of the vaunted Saints academy.

Tottenham Hotspur — I’d love to force Clint Dempsey in here but that’s a Fulham man, man. And I’ve got a lot of time for Heung-min Son, too. But I’m going to give an edge to Robbie Keane over his strike partner Jermain Defoe.

Watford — Show me a man who looks like he enjoys sandwiches as much as the rest of us but has a century of goals between the Championship and Premier League and I’ll be challenged to say I like someone more than Troy Deeney. American bias, sure, but Jay DeMerit‘s story of being ignored by MLS sides out of college and knocking on doors around England en route to a Man of the Match performance in a Premier League promotion-clinching win is chest-thumping stuff.

DeMerit scores the opener versus Leeds(Photo by Barrington Coombs – PA Images via Getty Images)

West Ham United — Bit of a strange one here. Michael Carrick was a beauty and an academy guy but you’re not going to mistake him for anything other than Man Utd. I’m going with Sporting KC’s Kiwi center back Winston Reid as the player I’ve most admired during my time watching the Hammers.

Wolverhampton Wanderers — Big Raul Jimenez gets my nod. The best active player in North America.

WATCH: Robbie Mustoe’s All-Time Premier League defensive midfielders

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Selecting the five best defensive midfielders in the Premier League era is a massive challenge.

Few are better-suited for the gig than our own Robbie Mustoe.

Known now as one-half of The 2 Robbies, Mustoe put together a career with more than 200 Premier League appearances in the center of the park.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Mustoe spent the lion’s share of his career with Middlesbrough, where he scored 12 top-flight goals. He also spent time with Charlton Athletic, Oxford United, and Sheffield Wednesday.

The five men he selected all played in this century, two remain active, and each has claimed at least one Premier League title.

See the video at the top of the page to learn their identities, and head here to watch Kyle Martino detail his top five entertainers of the Premier League era.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man Utd linked with 2 stars, Liverpool with CB

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Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Like most transfer windows since the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United is being linked with approximately $7 billion worth of purchases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

It should definitely be noted that the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic and the financial toll it’s taken on clubs may stop any number of big fee moves from meeting completion.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of those players who match the ambition and pedigree of United, a complete midfielder capable of controlling the pitch.

Foot Mercato says that United is back in for Milinkovic-Savic after seeing a nine-figure bid rebuffed by Lazio last summer.

The 25-year-old Serbian has been with Lazio since moving from Genk in 2015, and he was an instant hit. He has 36 goals and 26 assists in 197 appearances, but the numbers that really shine are advanced stats. This season’s saw him average 1.6 interceptions, 1.3 tackles, two shots, and 1.2 key passes per game while connecting on 3.4 long balls per game.

He’ll certainly want to know he’s staying in the Champions League. Lazio is extremely well-positioned to qualify out of Serie A, while United sits fifth ahead of what should be a wild return to the PL fixture list.


The Sunday Express is linking United with Wolves star Diogo Jota, who did not exactly race to deny interest in joining the Red Devils.

Jota, 23, has 15 goals and six assists this season including a pair of Europa League hat tricks.

He joked that he couldn’t join United because he wears the same number as fellow Portuguese star Bruno Fernandes, but added, “It’s always good to see your name linked to clubs with a club of that stature but I also know that this is not the most important thing. Just look at what is happening now with this pandemic.”

It’s difficult to imagine Jota’s price tag would be less than $40 million, and Wolves have a chance to be involved in the Champions League next season.


Liverpool has now joined Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid in being linked with Sevilla center back Diego Carlos.

The 27-year-old Brazilian played one season for Estoril in Portugal before brightening his star with Nantes in Ligue 1.

This is his first season at Sevilla, and he has not found trouble adjusting to La Liga. Carlos has two goals this season to go with 1.2 tackles, 1 interception, and a gaudy 5.1 clearances per match (WhoScored).

Mourinho in hot water after park training session with Ndombele

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Tottenham Hotspur is said to be “very unimpressed” after Jose Mourinho led a training session for at least one player on Tuesday.

England is currently in lock down with “government-enforced measures meaning people can only go outside for food, health reasons or work if you cannot do it from home.”

Several reports say Mourinho ran Tanguy Ndombele through individual paces while Ryan Sessegnon and Davinson Sanchez jogged separately at Hadley Common in North London.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

“All of our players have been reminded to respect social distancing when exercising outdoors. We shall continue to reinforce this message,” said a Spurs spokesman in the report.

It’s irresponsible at best from Mourinho. Even if he felt he could skirt the government’s rules in a pandemic —  not a good idea at all — he has to have the presence of mind to recognize that he’s one of the most recognizable soccer faces in a soccer-mad country.