Paul Pogba is facing arguably the most crucial decision of his career over the next few months, with his Manchester United future still undecided and less than a year left on his deal.
Reports earlier this week claimed the Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus target is telling those people within his inner circle that his desire is to sign a new £400,000-per-week deal at Old Trafford.
The 28-year-old midfielder is out of contract at the end of the season and there are few who would want to see the Frenchman depart on a free transfer once his deal expires.
Paul Pogba (left) is facing the most crucial decision of his career at Manchester United
The 28-year-old has less than 12 months left on his deal but reportedly wants to stay on
But a contract including such eye-watering wages would represent further significant investment for a player whose consistency in terms of form has constantly fluctuated since signing in an £89m deal from Juventus more than five years ago.
Those constant peaks and troughs in form have somewhat been represented in his form this season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
He looked destined to easily surpass Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne’s joint Premier League assists record of 20 in a season when he notched seven in his first four top-flight games of the current campaign against the likes of Leeds, Southampton and Newcastle.
He may yet still manage to challenge the Frenchman and Belgian’s record and no doubt playing in a deeper position makes chance creation slightly more challenging than before.
Pogba began the season in style, claiming four assists on the opening weekend against Leeds
But Pogba has failed to contribute a single goal or assist in his last five United matches
But since recording two assists on Ronaldo’s second debut against Newcastle, Pogba has failed to contribute a single goal or assist in the five games he has played in since across all competitions.
So what do the statistics tell us about how effective Pogba has been this season in comparison to last, and do they justify signing him up to the £400,000-per-week he craves so desperately?
Well, as you might expect given his brilliant start to the season creating goals – which included four in one game on the opening weekend against Leeds – his figures from his nine games across all competitions do look promising.
It must be noted that despite the comparison taking place when Pogba has played the same number of games as last season, he has been on the pitch for 693 minutes this term as opposed to 477 minutes at this stage in 2020-21.
Nevertheless, that should not undermine any of the France international’s achievements so far in the current campaign.
Pogba’s shooting has taken a turn for the worse, missing four big chances created this term
He has created 14 chances in the Premier League so far this term, putting him tenth on the list in the whole division in that category, with team-mates Luke Shaw and Bruno Fernandes seventh and first on the list.
He has also created another two in the Champions League, meaning he has created more than three times the amount of chances at this stage this season (16) than he had at this point in 2020-21 (five).
Pogba also tops the charts when it comes to assists – all of which have come in the league – despite his recent failure to add to his tally, with Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure his nearest challengers with four.
|Pogba First 7 PL Games & First 2 CL Games||2020-21||2021-22|
|Shots, on Target||2||4|
|Shots, Total (inc. Blocks)||6||19|
|Big Chance Scored||0||0|
|Big Chance Missed||0||4|
|Big Chance Conversion||0%||0%|
|Chances Created (inc. assists)||5||16|
|Big Chance Created||1||2|
All of Pogba’s assists have been from open play, while two of them are considered as big chances created. But it is, regardless of the specifics, a major improvement upon last season, where he had managed just a couple of assists from nine games.
He has also been careful as well as deadly with the ball, managing a passing accuracy rate of nearly 85 per cent this season in the league and 84 per cent in all competitions.
It is a statistic which is particularly impressive considering Pogba appears to be more willing to pass the ball than last term, attempting 443 passes in 2021-22 so far as opposed to 288 this term.
Some 373 of those passes this season have been successful, while 233 were at this point in the season in 2020-21, giving him a pass success rate of 81 per cent at the time.
The Frenchman has also played in a deeper midfield role since Ronaldo’s return rather than towards the left-hand side, making his ability to break the lines with his runs – as well as his passes – a critical part of his game.
A dribble success rate of nearly 74 per cent in the league and 69 per cent across all competitions suggests he is doing both effectively.
This is especially true given that he has attempted five more dribbles this term, and completed seven more, handing him a 17 per cent increase on his dribble success rate of 52 per cent at this stage last season in the league and Champions League combined.
However, tackling and ability to win the ball in duels are also an ever more critical aspect too, now that he is being positioned in a less advanced role by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
He seems to excel with his tackles, winning 75 per cent of them so far in the league, although a success rate of 50 per cent in that category in Europe sees his overall tackle success rate decrease from 70 per cent last season to 67 per cent.
But a duel success rate of less than 50 per cent – 46 per cent in the Premier League and 47 per cent overall – perhaps demonstrates there are some weaknesses or uncomfortableness he feels in that role.
It is undoubtedly an improvement on the 41 per cent duel success rate after nine games last season, when he had lost out on 65 of his 111 duels, yet it highlights an area of his game he could still improve.
However, Pogba’s greatest downfall this season appears to come from his finishing in and around the opposition’s box.
The 28-year-old has failed to score so far this season, missing all of the four big chances that have been laid on for him. The silver lining though appears to be that he does now appear more willing to strike at goal than last season.
Pogba has had a total of 19 shots this season, compared to just six at this stage last term. The issues arises however when just four of those have been recorded as on target.
That yields a shooting accuracy return of just 21 per cent, 12 per cent down on his total in the previous campaign when two of his six efforts were either saved by the goalkeeper or blocked.
But he has looked good in the tackle having been given a deeper role at United this season
One man however who has been able to find the net with some regularity is Ronaldo, having already netted five since his return to Old Trafford.
And L’Equipe claim the arrival of the Portuguese, as well as summer signings Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho to strengthen Solskjaer’s squad, is a key factor in Pogba’s decision making process about whether to stick or twist.
A similar claim was made by The Athletic after Ronaldo and Pogba shined against Newcastle, insisting the game had a significant positive impact on Pogba, with the feeling now that the midfielder staying at the club is becoming a realistic possibility.
It therefore appears Pogba does not only appreciate Ronaldo’s significance in terms of elevating United’s status among Europe’s elite, but also as a star with a fundamental role to play on the pitch.
The Frenchman has passed to his Portuguese team-mate on 33 occasions in 420 minutes they have played together this season.
That is due to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo (right), who he has passed to on 33 occasions
Ronaldo has only returned the favour 17 times, but again Pogba’s deeper role may have an impact on that given Ronaldo’s preference to always look forward and create danger rather than turning back.
But it still represents 50 completed passes between the duo at an average of 10.7 passes per game, which constitutes a superior rate to Fernandes’ success in linking up with his compatriot.
Fernandes has completed 22 passes to his Portugal team-mate in 460 minutes, a decrease of 11 in 40 more minutes than Pogba. But the 36-year-old has actually managed 25 passes to Fernandes, resulting in a 9.2 pass average every 90 minutes.
Both figures stop well short of the link-up between Pogba and Fernandes, who have completed 106 passes between them at an average just shy of 15 per fixture.
What is most important for Solskjaer however is that all three partnerships function well over the next couple of months, with United facing a nightmare run of fixtures.
That is more than Bruno Fernandes (right) has passed to his Portugal team-mate (left)
They face all but one of the other sides that finished in the top eight last season as well as tricky away ties in the Champions League.
And truth be told, their form ahead of those fixtures is a point of concern, with United winning just two of their last six games across all competitions, which includes taking just one point from home matches against Aston Villa and Everton.
Pogba’s decision about whether to stay or not is also likely to be determined by the amount of success United have this season, and this run of fixtures will determine whether Solskjaer’s squad have the mettle to win silverware.
But similarly United will also assess Pogba’s value to the squad with relation to his wage demands, and while the jury is out on whether they would be justified given his mixed performances this season, he can use the next set of fixtures to highlight his importance to the club once more.
Pogba has a chance to highlight his importance in the club’s nightmare run of fixtures