Assessing Paul Pogba's Manchester United return against Middlesbrough

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba showed he can be an asset in Ralf Rangnick’s system, after making his return from injury.

After recovering from the thigh injury he sustained during the international break in November, the World Cup winner was back in the Reds’ starting line-up against Middlesbrough.

It’s no disrespect to Fred or Scott McTominay, but neither possess the same quality on the ball as the Frenchman.

But equally, United’s number six is not anywhere near as defensively astute and aware as his fellow midfielders.

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That’s the dilemma Rangnick will have to resolve. Playing against a Championship side at Old Trafford, the German continued with his 4-3-3 formation, which saw McTominay deployed as the sitting midfielder and Pogba and Bruno Fernandes playing either side of the Scot.

With United heading to Turf Moor, where Pogba was the matchwinner last season, on Tuesday, Rangnick will have to decide whether to bring Fred back in from the start.

With 80 minutes under his belt in his first game since November, Pogba may start the clash against Burnley on the bench to ensure his return from injury is carefully managed.

Against Boro, Rangnick started Pogba, Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo.

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That’s the first time the talented quintet have started a Manchester United game together. It was Pogba’s first appearance under Rangnick.

Eager to get on the ball and make things happen for his team, Pogba doesn’t go hiding, and his first thought in possession is always to look forwards.

It was no surprise that Rashford and Sancho were constantly making darting runs in-behind when they have the vision of Fernandes and Pogba to pick them out.

Ronaldo’s missed penalty came via Pogba’s late run into the penalty area which created panic in the Boro defence.

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Playing Pogba in the middle means there is the tendency for the odd lapse in concentration which could see him get caught on the ball and United countered on.

He tried an extravagant flick in the first half which saw him lose his balance and the ball, before receiving a yellow card for a professional foul to prevent a counter attack opportunity for Chris Wilder’s side.

That’s the predicament Rangnick will face in the Premier League, does he play it safe with Fred and McTominay, or does he add that element of risk and unpredictability by making Pogba a focal point of the team.

Making those lung-busting powerful runs from deep, no player completed more dribbles than the Frenchman (3) in last night’s agonising penalty shootout defeat.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

He finished the match with 80 touches and 86% pass accuracy. He also made one tackle, three interceptions and one clearance, as well as winning 10 duels.

Rangnick labelled Pogba’s performance as “okay” and how he “expected him to play”.

The worry will be that with Pogba’s contact expiring in June and United’s best chance of silverware this season now vanishing, that the former Juventus man’s time at the Theatre of Dreams just peters out.

Rangnick has to find a way to ensure that doesn’t happen because Manchester United need Paul Pogba at his best in what will probably be his last few months at the club.

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Passionate Football fan that completed a NCTJ-accredited Diploma in Multimedia Sports Journalism in 2016.