Early in the season Paul Pogba looked expendable at Manchester United.
United went on a run of games in October, winning four games in a row against Everton, Istanbul Basaksehir, West Brom and Southampton where Pogba was not a starter.
This came after a low point for Pogba, when he gave away a penalty in a home defeat to Arsenal.
The narrative began to build that United were a better team without the Frenchman.
This led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leaving him on the bench for crucial Champions League defeats to PSG and RB Leipzig, a decision which with hindsight looks like a big mistake.
Now Pogba is injured
Pogba returned to the team in mid-December and United went on a strong run of form.
He played a key role in victories over Wolves and Aston Villa, scoring key goals in wins against Burnley and Fulham.
It was typical bad luck that Pogba got injured against Everton, after winning the club’s player of the month award.
Already United have been exposed as a team which misses Pogba. His all round game over the last few weeks has been excellent, thriving in a variety of roles.
United would probably not have drawn with Everton had he been fit. And the team likely would have found a way to turn one point against West Brom into three.
Concern for the present
Last season United got used to playing without Pogba. This was by necessity with the Frenchman missing several months.
Now United have to adjust, at a time when Pogba was in the best form he has been in for years. Taking him out of a functionally impressive United team hurts.
His loss has already been felt, and unfortunately he is not likely to return quickly. The Athletic report Pogba could miss games against Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as both Europa League matches.
These are critical games for United’s season. The City game could revitalise our fading (faded?) title hopes, while the Chelsea match could act as a trapdoor towards falling out of the top four.
United must learn to play without Pogba again, quickly.
Concern for the future
This recent dependence on Pogba serves to highlight the task United have this summer.
It is a widely held view that Pogba will be sold, with just one year remaining on his contract.
United cannot look at the current squad and take a view that we can get by without Pogba.
Yes, Donny van de Beek will get increased chances, and James Garner may have an impact upon his return from loan, but United need more.
A new signing will be needed, especially with Nemanja Matic’s quality ebbing away.
The last month showed what United can be with Pogba, and if we don’t replace him effectively, his absence will be profoundly felt next season.
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