Better Stats Than Chelsea’s Kante – What’s The Reason Behind Pogba’s Sudden Upturn In Form?

When Manchester United scored their opening goal in the 2-1 win at Crystal Palace last week, all the players surrounded the giant figures of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović to celebrate, in adulation for the two stars who had combined to give the Red Devils the lead. It was a moment indicative of the shift in power that is taking place at Old Trafford this season.


Ibrahimović, at 35, is having a huge impact, but will most likely fade off in another season, but with every game, Pogba’s influence seems to be growing, and the team is being built around the £89m record signing, and it is quickly becoming the 23-year-old’s team.

The French international dominated the match against Palace, scoring that opening goal before turning provider with a delightful assist for Ibrahimović’s late winner. He was at the heart of everything positive United did at Selhurst Park and had the most touches and passes on the night.

And four days later at the Hawthorns, he was again the standout player in United’s commanding 2-0 win against West Bromwich Albion. Pogba once more had the most touches and passes by any player and it was he, who started the move for United’s opening goal with an excellent cross-field pass.

There were plenty of disgruntled murmurs and critiques after a slow start to life at Old Trafford for Pogba. Questions were being raised over the humongous transfer fee United had paid to bring back their academy graduate. But with some impressive performances over the last few weeks, Pogba has managed to silence his detractors and is finally showing why he is one of the best midfielders in the game at present.

In fact, the Frenchman’s recent form has been so good that, he has managed to outdo his start to the previous season at Juventus and has better numbers than Premier League’s best midfielder from last season, N’Golo Kante. So, what has caused this sudden upturn in form? What has Mourinho changed in terms of Pogba’s role that has seen him improve drastically over the past weeks?

Pogba, throughout his tenure at Juventus, played on the left-side of a three-man midfield and totally thrived in that system. With someone like an Andrea Pirlo controlling the game from the base of the midfield and an energetic runner like Arturo Vidal on the right-hand side, it gave Pogba the license to romp forward at will and terrorize the opposition defences. The surging forward runs and the drifting runs out to the left-flank became a huge feature of his game leading to a galore of goals and assists.

However, when Pogba moved to United, Jose Mourinho, whose love for the 4-2-3-1 is well-known, deployed him as one of the deep pivots in the midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini. With added responsibilities of shielding his defence, Pogba seemed to be shackled and deprived of the freedom he required to have the desired impact. His positional unawareness cost the Red Devils at times as well. And Fellaini was the farthest from an ideal partner that Pogba would have hoped for.

Jose also tried using the record signing in an advanced No.10 role, but the Frenchman did not have much luck there as well, as he was deprived of space with Ibrahimović dropping deep and the wide players cutting in.

It took some time for Mourinho to budge and accept that his favoured system wasn’t reaping the necessary rewards. But when he did change the setup to a 4-3-3, things finally began to happen. With Michael Carrick, sitting the deepest in the midfield, he offered the shield to the defenders and provided the much-needed control that United needed in the midfield. Ander Herrera, on the right-side of the central midfield trio, brought in the energy and the pressing and running that was missing in the Red Devils’ play. And with this Pogba has been unleashed. He has returned to his favoured position and has been afforded much more creative freedom to express himself, which has done wonders for Pogba and United.

After 17 games in the league this season, Pogba has scored three goals and assisted a further 2 goals and has created 30 chances for the Red Devils so far. In comparison, he had made only 23 chances last year playing for the Bianconeri in the first 17 Serie A games. Pogba has attempted more dribbles (72) than he did at this stage last term and has had higher attempts of headed duels as well, competing 78 times for the ball in the air, comparing to last season’s 48.

What has been pleasing to see is, despite him carrying the creative burden for United, his defensive side of the game has gone up a notch compared to last year. He has attempted more tackles this season (63) and has also made 23 clearances and 26 interceptions, compared to last season’s 9 clearances and 16 interceptions. Last year, Pogba had made one defensive error which led to an attempt at goal after 17 games, but this term there have been none.

Pogba Kante
Appearances 16 17
Goals (Assists) 3 (2) 1 (0)
Chances created 30 12
Average Duels Won per game 52% 41%
Average Defensive Actions per game 3 4

In comparison to Chelsea midfield workhorse N’Golo Kante, Pogba has scored more goals, assisted more and has created more chances. And Pogba has also had a better success rate at duels per game compared to his compatriot, whereas Kante has better numbers when it comes to average defensive actions performed per game. Pogba has outdone his Chelsea counterpart going forward and has been equally good in the defensive half.

After a stuttering start to his second coming at Old Trafford, Pogba seems to have finally found his groove in the new setup under Jose Mourinho, and while he is expected to be prolific in attack, his defensive game is something that has gone up a level after he has started working with the Portuguese. The 23-year old has become the beating heart of this United team and if the performances from the recent weeks are something to go by, United are going to reap the benefit of their huge investment for years to come.

Written by Raghavendra Goudar

Mechanical Engineer, avid reader and a football fanatic.

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