Manchester United endured their second defeat in less than a week tonight as they went down 1-0 to Feyenoord in their Europa League opener.
José Mourinho rested a number of first team players for tonight’s fixture – Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney were all left at home, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic started the game on the bench.
One player who did feature from the beginning, however, was Paul Pogba. The £89m signing hasn’t exactly set the word alight since sealing the most expensive transfer of all time back to Old Trafford last month.
Even as Manchester United have made a good start to the season, Pogba’s own performances have not quite been up to the standard already expected of the French international.
He was roundly criticised for his display in the defeat to Manchester City last weekend, in a showing that lacked discipline and positional sense.
If anything, his performance at De Kuip tonight was even worse. In a game that became more physical as it went on, Pogba went missing in a match that seemed tailor-made for his strengths.
The statistics from tonight appeared to confirm this, as the 23-year-old allowed another game to pass him by:
@goodkiddie Paul Pogba’s first half vs. Feyenoord:
84% pass accuracy
0 chances created
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 15, 2016
His abject first half display did not improve after the break. His passing percentage did improve slightly (86% according to Whoscored), but this was another chance for Pogba to grab a game by the scruff of the neck – when there was far less pressure on him to perform than in the Premier League – and he hasn’t taken it.
In fact, his heatmap for the game (available in the above link) showed that he spent most of his night on the left flank, occupying the same positions as Anthony Martial (and later Memphis Depay) as his general positioning was all wrong again.
His passing was wayward, his shooting worse and he was easily the worst of Manchester United’s midfield trio tonight, behind the impressive Morgan Schneiderlin and combative Ander Herrera.
Of course, the judgemental bitchy friend that is Twitter was on hand to gleefully take Pogba down another peg:
WATCH: Paul Pogba’s Best Moments for Manchester United… pic.twitter.com/mkaK99ogef
— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) September 15, 2016
Someone needs to let Paul Pogba know that DM stands for defensive midfielder, not disappearing midfielder. ZING ? pic.twitter.com/mNeq8Q9Mnt
— footbilly (@footbilly) September 15, 2016
“A peripheral figure.”
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 15, 2016
£90m for a dabbing Wilshere
— Freezy (@Calfreezy) September 15, 2016
└? Paul Pogba
└? Goals and assists
└ ?⚠ This folder is empty.
— Arsenal Related ⚽? (@ArsenalsRelated) September 15, 2016
Pogba awful as were #mufc … Watford now a maRSIve game…
— jamie jackson (@JamieJackson___) September 15, 2016
Can’t quite believe a United team including Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial couldn’t get a better result then Dundalk tonight.
— Leon (@LPollardo) September 15, 2016
RT for Paul Pogba being back at United. FAV for Alf being back in Pog form.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) September 15, 2016
Paul Pogba spelled backwards is abgop luap which makes no sense just like the £89M Manchester United spent on him. pic.twitter.com/cq0PEThIcb
— SlashFootball (@slashfootball) September 15, 2016
Of course, all of this comes with the massive disclaimer that it is surely only a matter of time before Pogba comes good.
Perhaps he was played too far forward tonight, when the solution seems to be, as Paul Scholes was suggesting after tonight’s match, operating with a controlling midfielder behind him to allow him to flourish.
Scholes suggested Michael Carrick but Morgan Schneiderlin may in fact the answer based on his own showing tonight.
Of course, that means removing Wayne Rooney from the number ten role, which looks highly unlikely at this stage.
All in all, Sunday’s trip to Watford has already taken on an added level of significance.
(It should be added that Pogba wasn’t the worst player on the pitch tonight. That was Marcos Rojo, by a somewhat ridiculous distance.)