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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.

How will Man City and Man United line up for critical derby?

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There is as much on the line in Wednesday’s Manchester derby than anyone could have hoped for, and the enormous stakes will only feed the excitement on the pitch.

Whereas these big matches often end in cagey draws in the first half of the season with little incentive for the teams to do anything other than avoid losing, a draw won’t do for either side this time around, and there could be goals on the cards. So with everything on the line, how will these teams line up on the field?

[ MORE: Hudson-Odoi injury renews contract talks ]

There are injuries to consider on both sides. Pep Guardiola confirmed that Kevin De Bruyne will not be available tomorrow for Manchester City after his injury against Tottenham left the rest of his season in doubt. Manchester United, meanwhile, will reportedly be without defender Phil Jones after he was withdrawn in the heavy defeat to Everton last time out. Other than that, both squads are fully healthy minus the long-term injury to City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

The biggest question for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be how to deploy his back line against the vicious Manchester City attack – particularly on the flanks. He left Ashley Young on the bench each of the last two matches, with natural center-backs Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo deputizing at full-back, but that experiment could come to an end with Luke Shaw returning from suspension. In Jones’ absence, Rojo or Lindelof could be moved back to the middle, or Solskjaer could bring Eric Bailly back into the fold after failling to see the field in the last two months. The midfield has also been a conglomeration, with the third spot up in the air next to Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Fred and Juan Mata have both seen time, but Ander Herrera will be reportedly returning from his injury and could see the field.

[ MORE: Solskjaer hoping for turnaround ]

For Manchester City, Guardiola’s headache will be constructing his midfield without De Bruyne. He has had Fernandinho in and out of the lineup over the last few weeks due to nagging injuries, and it remains to be seen if he utilizes the defensive midfielder to anchor the formation. Ilkay Gundogan has played deeper when Fernandinho has been absent, and he’s played well in that spot, but at times they still seem to be missing a natural anchor, and it was Fernandinho who came in to replace De Bruyne after his injury.


MANCHESTER UNITED

—– De Gea —–

— Dalot — Rojo — Smalling — Shaw —

—- Matic —- Herrera —-

—- Martial —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


MANCHESTER CITY

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — Laporte — Zinchenko —

—– Fernandinho —–

—- Gundogan —- Foden —-

— B Silva —- Aguero — Sterling —


Everton pummel Manchester United (video)

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  • Richarlison scores overhead kick (video)
  • Sigurdsson, Digne strike from outside box
  • Walcott pours misery on De Gea, Red Devils
  • One shot on target for Man Utd

Everton hammered Manchester United on Sunday at Goodison Park, using four different goal scorers to pull into seventh place on the Premier League table via a 4-0 blowout on Merseyside.

Richarlison, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lucas Digne, and Theo Walcott scored for Marco Silva‘s Toffees, whose 49 points are level with Watford (which has played one fewer match).

United has now allowed more goals than any of its single seasons in the Premier League era with 48. There are four matches left, and Manchester City is next.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Everton took the lead before the quarter hour mark, Lucas Digne’s long throw flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Richarlison’s terrific overhead kick.

Paul Pogba sprung Marcus Rashford on goal, but the striker’s flicked short zipped over the goal.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Everton made it 3-0 in the 56th, as Digne let a De Gea punch bounce once outside the box before smashing a shot inside the near post.

Walcott would later side-foot under De Gea after Sigurdsson sprung him down the left wing.

WATCH: Everton leads on Richarlison overhead kick, Sigurdsson missile

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Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson have both scored their 13th goals of the Premier League season this Sunday, each gorgeous in their own way.

Richarlison, who turns 22 on May 10, provided an aesthetically-pleasing, acrobatic goal during the Toffees’ Sunday visit from Manchester United.

[ STREAM: Everton-Man Utd on NBCSports.com ]

The goal came before the quarter-hour mark to open the scoring at Goodison Park.

Lucas Digne‘s long throw was flicked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison swung his left peg skyward for a terrific overhead kick that defied David De Gea.

After bagging five goals with five assists for Watford last season, Richarlison has 13 and two for the Toffees.

Not to be outdone, Sigurdsson took advantage of some generous space around Nemanja Matic on a Everton counter attack.

The Icelandic star lashed a shot from well outside the 18, zipping inside the near post as De Gea helplessly flew toward the bounding shot.

Premier League Sunday preview: Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool all in play

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The battles at the summit of the Premier League table continue as three of the top six teams take the field on Sunday.

The title race is still white hot, with both Manchester City and Liverpool swinging back and forth with every positive result. City jumped back into the lead with the win on Saturday over Tottenham, a point in front with four matches remaining on both the dockets.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

The fight for the Champions League places also looks a good one, with four teams battling for just two places. Tottenham sits precariously in third on 67 points, while Arsenal and Chelsea are level on 66 with the Gunners holding the goal differential tiebreaker by five. Manchester United is in sixth on 64 points, still in the mix.


Everton v. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The Red Devils are the first of the Champions League contenders to take the field as they visit Goodison Park. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s honeymoon period in charge of Manchester United is over and it’s time for him to prove he belongs. The Norwegian boss was given the permanent position after a record start to his interim tenure, but the timing was still odd and as the season winds down, the Red Devils could be left out of the mix for Europe’s biggest competition. Luke Shaw is suspended for the match for yellow card accumulation, but otherwise the injury news is good with Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Alexis Sanchez all reportedly available.

Everton, meanwhile, sits in a similar position as Manchester United, battling for a European place but bringing up the rear. The Toffees sit in 10th, back of the pack among a crowded fight for the last Europa League place. Everton is still just three points back of Watford who currently holds that spot, and while they can break everyone’s hearts by upsetting Manchester City in the FA Cup final, a loss would give the Europa League position to whoever finishes seventh.

INJURIES: Everton —  OUT: Yerry Mina (hamstring), Andre Gomes (suspension). | Manchester United — OUT: Luke Shaw (suspension).


Cardiff City v. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool yet again has to put pressure on Manchester City to have any hope in the Premier League title race. Ahead of the midweek Manchester derby, the Reds have the opportunity not just to take the lead but to stay there should City slip up at all against the Red Devils with their game in hand.

They’ll need a result against a team fighting for its life. Cardiff City is in 17th in the Premier League table, three points shy of safety. A shocking win would put Cardiff in much better position, while a loss would see them potentially fall two games out. They’ve lost three straight and haven’t scored in their last two, so Liverpool will be licking its chops.

INJURIES: Cardiff City —  OUT: Souleymane Bamba (knee), Callum Paterson (ankle), Matthew Connolly (ankle), Harry Arter (calf), . QUESTIONABLE: Aron Gunnarsson (back). | Liverpool — OUT: none. QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (illness), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee).


Arsenal v. Crystal Palace — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSports.com

The Gunners will know Manchester United’s result before taking the field, to see whether they will be looking to strengthen their Champions League position or hoping to recapture it. Arsenal is currently in fourth, clinging barely to its spot in the top European competition, but they have been strong of late and have a soft schedule to finish the season, so there is no reason not to lock the spot down. Still, the injuries are rampant and there are fears that Aaron Ramsey‘s Arsenal career will end with the thigh injury he picked up midweek in Europa League play. Coupled with the three long-term injuries to Bellerin, Welbeck, and Holding plus Sokratis’ suspension, the Gunners are thin.

Crystal Palace has little to play for at this point, sitting in 14th on 39 points but unlikely to be sucked into the relegation battle. Roy Hodgson has led the squad to five wins since the start of February, good enough form to keep them out of the maelstrom at the bottom of the table. They put up a decent fight against title leaders Manchester City last time out, and kept two straight clean sheets in the matches before that. However, they lost two important players recently in James Tomkins and Jeffrey Schlupp who both will miss the rest of the season after long-term injuries.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Hector Bellerin (knee), Rob Holding (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Sokratis (suspended). QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (groin). | Crystal Palace — OUT: James Tomkins (groin), Jeffrey Schlupp (ankle), Mamadou Sakho (knee).