Paul Pogba is considered as one of the hottest names in the position of the midfielder in the contemporary global football market. His transfer from Juventus to Manchester United during the summer transfer period of 2016-17 season comprised the most expensive transfer in football’s history (currently it is the fourth most expensive transfer, only behind Neymar Jr., Philippe Coutinho and Osman Dembélé).
Although Pogba had left the “Red Devils” four years earlier as a failure prospect, the fact that he has a tall, strong and difficult to be intercepted body shape, plus the young age, the undoubted talent and the outstanding performances with “Vecchia Signora”, persuaded José Mourinho to bring him back to “Old Trafford” no matter the cost.
However, after one season and a half, the Frenchman has been sidelined by the Portuguese coach, while his market value has encountered significant losses (from 105.000.000€ to 90.000.000€). The United’s fans never offered immune to the player, by demanding nothing less than 100% of his football quality. When Pogba performs good enough no one protests, albeit when he performs below the expected standards, then the press and the fans mercilessly deride him. But does really Pogba perform poorly or the expectations for him are unreasonably high?
Criteria of Analysis: Offensive & Defensive Skills
First of all, Paul Pogba is a Midfielder (MD). So, considering that he is neither a Center Defender (CD) nor a Center Forward (CF), the approach of the analysis need to be focused on both defensive and offensive awareness of the player. For reaching to safe conclusions whether the first or the second scenario is validated, certain comparisons need to be made:
• The first one will compare his offensive and defensive features, which will be taken into account while he was wearing the kit of Juventus and Manchester United separately.
• The second one will analyze his passing accuracy and his average number of passes per game, season by season, concerning the nature of his position on the field.
• Finally, the third one will focus on his individual contribution on the offensive plan of his team, so as to be understood from the analysis the “mark” of the player on the creation of the chances for his team per season.
At this point, it is essential to refer that for the purposes of the analysis, the seasons 2011-12 (Manchester United) and 2012-13 (Juventus) will not be taken into consideration, because Pogba did not have frequent presence in the starting squad. What is more, only the stats from the major competitions (Premier League, Europa League, Serie A and Champions League) will be examined. The stats from competitions such as League Cup or Copa Italia might not provide useful information because of the low level of competiveness, especially on the early stage matches with clubs from lower Divisions.
Downward Trend in Defense
In this graph, the defensive performance of Pogba in Manchester United is presented through six different categories. This season is ongoing, but his stats are significantly decreasing. More precisely, Pogba has -26.32% successful tackles, -37.5 interceptions, -52.63% aerials won and -44% clearances per match. Even though he allows less successful dribbles to the opponents (-35.3%), he attempts less fouls (-21.05%) which is a sign of defensive indifference. In overall, during his comeback to the “Red Devils”, the Frenchman’s average stats in defense per match are the following: 1.65 tackles, 0.98 interceptions, 2.1 aerials won, 0.98 clearances, 0.7 dribbles allowed and 1.7 fouls committed. These stats are more than satisfactory for an average player of Premier League. For a world class MD who cost more than 105.000.000€ are not.
In this second graph, the defensive performance of Pogba during his stay at Juventus is illustrated. These stats describe a hustle player who showed great individual improvement and more defensive devotion from season to season. By comparing the average stats of his presence at Juventus and those of his presence at Manchester United, the findings arising are of great interest. Pogba performs significantly worse in tackles (-24.57%), interceptions (-10%) and fouls committed (-11.88%), while his clearances are slightly less (-1.27%). On the other hand, he allows less successful dribbles to the opponents (-8.2%) and dominates in the air (+13% aerials won). The main point the stats show is that Pogba defends much worse in Manchester United than in Juventus.
Upward Trend in Offense
The situation does not differ in offense. His first season in “Old Trafford” is thought to be more successful offensively, too. Pogba might have double digits in assist, a number that can be increased as the season needs two months for being completed, but that happens because of his co-players’ efficiency. As it is described of the above graph, his numbers in key passes, long ball passes, shots and successful dribbles per game are dropping, when he does not show any improvement in unsuccessful touches with the ball, which conduce to turnovers and loss of ball possession for his team. Nevertheless, the offensive stats mentioned constitute career high in many cases for him.
In his best season in Turin, Pogba had 14 assists, 1.7 key passes, 3.05 long passes, 3.25 shots, 3 successful dribbles and 2.4 unsuccessful touches per game. These numbers can easily be compared with his recent ones. In fact, the average comparison of his stats demonstrate an important improvement in his offensive game style. He has improved in the key passes (+8.16%), successful long passes (+68.4%) and shots (+1.38%) per game. The categories in which he has felt back are the unsuccessful touches (+13.15%), the assists (-19.64%, but this percentage can also be improved until the end of this season) and the dribbles he attempts (-3.87%) per game. The last stat can be thought as negative, but the truth is it is inextricably linked with the change of his game style and his efficient the passing game.
Passing Percentage Better than De Bruyne
Maybe the numbers are against that theory, but Paul Pogba is one of the most skillful MD in European football with the ball on his feet. He rarely submit to unforced errors and his passes are accurate, by trying to transport the ball in the opponent’s side in any possible way. Nonetheless, the tactical formation of Manchester United does not help him to give prominence to his individual technical brilliance.
It sounds abnormal, but Pogba’s passing game is better than Kevin De Bruyne’s of Manchester City, who is the top assist player of Premier League this season. The Frenchman passes with 85.35% so far, by attempting more long passes than the Belgian (83.2% pass accuracy), which makes his passing performance even more difficult to be achieved.
The average passing accuracy of Pogba in the last two seasons is 84.75%. In Juventus, the same percentage was 81.1% (-4.5%). A major factor for this increase is that, in Italy, Pogba coexisted with some of the most charismatic playmakers of European football (Pirlo, Dybala etc.) and his responsibilities were very restricted in the offense. The absence of a world class playmaker in Manchester United (Juan Mata always used as a Left or Right Winger) gave to Pogba the chance to bright out his offensive assets. That’s why his average passes per game have been increased by 49.73% two years now.
Unfortunately, this chance also exposed all the weaknesses that were well covered all these years. In 2016-17, he had 72.05 passes per game. From these passes only 1.7 were key passes for goal, which means that only the 2.36% consisted a serious threaten for the opponent team.
Scoring Contribution: United vs Juventus
Many people will think that the scoring contribution of Pogba is irrelevant with the analysis, as there other roles of high importance he has to serve on the field. All the same, the findings illustrate a completely different situation than most fans would expect.
In one and a half season in England, Pogba has contributed to the 17.9% of Manchester United’s goals (11 goals, 15 assists) as he has scored or assisted 26 of the 145 goal of his club. During the first season, he contributed to the 17.57% of United’s goals (8 goals, 5 assists), while in the current season he has already offered 3 goals and 10 assist to his team (18.31%). The numbers are more than sufficient, considering the game style of Manchester United which is very defensive, but the evolution of the player is not as promising as was thought when he played for Juventus.
In Italy, Pogba contributed to the 20.4% of Juventus total goals (26 goals, 28 assists), even though he was playing as Defensive Midfielder (DM) in most of the matches. In 2013-14, he scored or assisted the 16.67% (8 goals, 8 assists), in 2014-15 the 17.24% (9 goals, 6 assists) and in 2015-16 the unbelievable 28.05% (9 goals, 14 assists). The level of difficulty is clearly more elevated in Premier League than in Serie A, but, under no circumstances, can be so chaotic to justify such a significant difference in the player’s performance.
The Contribution Analysis depicted which was the best period in Paul Pogba’s so far. Notwithstanding that the findings reveal that the player does not perform as bad as many people think, in Juventus he had the most productive seasons of his short-distant football career. Of course, there are several issues that lack of clarification.
He might cost a lot of money but he is not a playmaker who can assist 20 goals per season, as everyone demand from him. He is not a well-rounded DM, but everyone demand from him to intercept every dangerous pass which comes across his keeper’s area.
Paul Pogba remains one of the most promising players of his generation, yet the renaissance of his career might be away from “Old Trafford” and England, as it proven twice that he encounter difficulties to be adapted to the English football way.
Squawka.com. (2018). De Bruyne | Football Statistics | Form Guide | Squawka.com. [online] Available at: https://goo.gl/T1b5eV [Accessed 17 Mar. 2018].
Pogba, P. (2018). Paul Pogba – Player Profile 17/18. [online] Transfermarkt.com. Available at: https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-pogba/profil/spieler/122153 [Accessed 13 Mar. 2018].
Whoscored.com. (2018). Paul Pogba – History. [online] Available at: https://www.whoscored.com/Players/97752/History/Paul-Pogba [Accessed 15 Mar. 2018].