Did Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea show how much they are missing Paul Pogba? We take a look at the stats.
Gary Neville was in no doubt about where Sunday’s meeting at Stamford Bridge was won and lost. “I thought Manchester United got killed in midfield,” said the Sky Sports pundit. “United were well short in that area. If you dominate the midfield in a big game then you’re in business and Chelsea did.”
After N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas had outplayed Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan so comprehensively, it was inevitable that thoughts would turn to United’s missing man. The injured Paul Pogba was conspicuous by his absence.
Jose Mourinho responds to Manchester Utd's 1-0 defeat to Chelsea
“I think Pogba is a big miss because of his arrogance and confidence to take the ball,” added Neville. “He takes the ball in tight areas. When Chelsea got the ball there was rhythm, it was already popped off around the corner, but United looked like a midfield that didn’t know where the next pass was. Pogba holds the ball, he beats a man.”
Neville went on to mention the absence of Michael Carrick too, but it’s the Pogba problem which seems more pressing. The Frenchman was instrumental in Manchester United’s strong start to the season, scoring two goals and providing two assists in their first four Premier League fixtures.
The early signs pointed to a strong second season ahead for United’s record signing, but it is two months now since he hobbled out of a Champions League meeting with Basel with a hamstring injury. Sunday’s defeat was only United’s second in 12 games since then, but their performances are not what they were and the statistics show it.
Since Pogba was sidelined, United’s attacking numbers have dropped dramatically in the Premier League. From creating 14.8 chances per game and three big chances per game in the first four games of the season, they are now creating just seven and 1.6 respectively. The goals have followed the same trend, dropping from three to 1.6 per game.
Pogba’s absence is at the heart of it. The midfielder was creating more opportunities than any other United player at the time of his injury and a deeper look at the stats emphases his influence even further. In three the four Premier League games in which he featured, he made more passes in the opposition half than anyone else. No player made more successful dribbles.
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester Utd
United missed Pogba’s attributes more than ever against Chelsea. “You look at Mkhitaryan and Matic,” said Graeme Souness. “Yes, they work hard, Matic sweeps in front of the back and does a great job defensively, but they don’t have that creative spark that other players have in abundance.”
Romelu Lukaku has felt Pogba’s absence as much as anyone. The Belgian, who did not have a single touch in the opposition box against his former club on Sunday, has now gone seven games without scoring. “Lukaku is struggling because he’s not getting the kind of service he needs,” said Souness. “He wants to get in a race with people, but no one is delivering that kind of pass for him.”
Pogba was the man providing those kind of passes earlier in the season, but right now Jose Mourinho has little choice but to find different solutions. The United manager said he had “no idea” when Pogba would be available again last week. Sunday’s game emphasised just how problematic that could prove to be.