With just one win from the last six Premier Leagues outings Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are in the midst of their first crisis. The ship looks rudderless and marquee summer signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic appear unable to steer it back on course.
Former Leeds United and England full back Danny Mills sees it differently; he thinks both Zlatan and Paul Pogba are being dragged down into the mire of mediocrity by the players around them.
“I thought Manchester United would be great this season,” Mills said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “I thought when Mourinho came in, an experienced manager [who’s] done all sorts in the Premier League, a fresh start [at] a big club, made some very, very good signings with some good players that were already there, a fantastic goalkeeper, I thought they’d be up there challenging and suddenly now it looks like a much bigger job than maybe we all thought.”
“Zlatan, Pogba – I think they’re great players. They would be in my squad, if not in my team, every day of the week. I think there’s a lot of United players that maybe aren’t up to it and I think Zlatan and Pogba are maybe being dragged down by the standard of everybody else.”
— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) October 24, 2016
Maybe we should take Mills’ theory on board, after all he managed to drag some pretty talented players down to his own level over the years. But for anyone who has watched United closely this season, it’s plain to see his hypothesis simply doesn’t ring true.
Apart from games against the much weaker teams, Pogba and Zlatan have often been among the least effective players on the pitch. The recent away trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge stand as two perfect examples.
Zlatan operates a strict shoot-on-sight policy as soon as he is facing the goal. A fairly sound modus operandi for a striker which has brought him four goals in nine games in the league but when examined a little closer it doesn’t make for such good reading. The big Swede has scored one header and one penalty, leaving two right footed goals in the column. He has taken 43 shots on goal, managing only 14 on target; a shooting accuracy of 33%.
Some may argue that he operates largely with his back to goal and outside the box, which is true. In that case his link-up play is also leaving a lot to be desired at the moment as he hasn’t provided a single assist as of yet. When the ball is played up to him he retains possession very well but more often than not lays the ball off backwards.
Does he get the runners off the ball he needs? Maybe not, but this stems from his immobility. He’s no longer able to receive the ball, turn and find a teammate quickly enough to cause any damage.
His initial goal rush was masking his relatively poor overall contribution to those games but as long as he was scoring he was doing his job. Now that the goals have dried up, United look toothless up top.
Since Pogba has been deployed in the number ten role as the closest player to Zlatan, the team has looked even less threatening. He seldom runs beyond his striker and is often not close enough to give the support needed. On the ball Pogba often looks like making something happen but when starved of it he seldom wins it back for his team or cuts off the oppositions options.
With Pogba having grabbed two goals, including one spectacular strike, against a poor Fenerbahce side last week, Mills may feel he’s vindicated in his comments.
In this writer’s opinion, he’s been hoodwinked by the flat track bully element, embodied by Pogba, creeping into this United team. Dabbing when he scores, missing when he’s needed.