Perhaps fittingly for a Frenchman plying his trade in Brexit Britain, every performance by Paul Pogba in a Manchester Untied shirt seems to turn into a referendum on whether or not he’s a good idea.
Just take his last few weeks. United’s record signing was at the centre of remarkable revelations before the Manchester derby that he was offered to neighbours City and turned in an utterly abject performance before scoring twice to inspire a stunning 3-2 win.
Jose Mourinho’s side stopped City winning the Premier League title that day only to gift it to them with a shambling 1-0 loss to basement boys West Brom at Old Trafford six days ago. Pogba had already been ignominiously hauled off before Jay Rodriguez headed the winner.
A restorative display at Bournemouth and a sublime assist for Romelu Lukaku later and the former Juventus midfielder had done enough to earn a starting berth for Saturday’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-triumph over Tottenham at Wembley.
It looked a dubious reward during the early stages as Spurs tore into United, roared on in familiar surroundings.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) April 21, 2018
One of the reasons United have been so criticised this season despite siting above largely celebrated Liverpool and Tottenham sides in the Premier League table – much to Mourinho’s chagrin – is that when they are second best for any period of time, they generally look utterly terrible.
A side featuring Pogba, Lukaku and Nemanja Matic is not one built for lumbering after nimble schemers like Christian Eriksen or rampaging wingers such as Son Heung-min. Eriksen scampered clear of an ambling Pogba – where left-back Ashley Young was in the 11th minute is, frankly, anyone’s guess – to gift-wrap the opener for Dele Alli.
Son took Antonio Valencia back to the early days of his conversion from winger to full-back, regularly perplexing the Ecuador international and giving Kane and Alli chances to extend Tottenham’s lead.
Failing to fully capitalise upon being in the ascendancy was foolhardy in the extreme from Mauricio Pochettino’s side. As Chelsea and Manchester City can report, being behind against high-end opponents does not overly phase this United team, even when they are seemingly dazed and punch-drunk on the ropes.
Mousa Dembele enjoyed regal early control of midfield in a performance that mocked Pogba’s initial contribution. But he dallied on the ball to be ransacked by the 25-year-old, whose delicious cross invited Alexis Sanchez to head his eighth goal in as many Wembley appearances.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 21, 2018
There were flipping fortunes all over the pitch during an undulating first half, with Valencia no doubt enjoying leaving Son on his backside to deliver a cross shortly before half-time. Tottenham partially cleared and only an excellent save from Michel Vorm denied Pogba a long-range goal of towering majesty.
United goalkeeper David De Gea endured the unfamiliar sensation of helplessness when Eric Dier’s deflected drive struck the post and Spurs had worked their way back on top by the time Ander Herrera decisively struck after the hour.
They could have crossed the line more comfortably, with Lukaku failing to snaffle a glorious 72nd-minute Pogba pass as he did earlier in the week before the £89.3million man stung Vorm’s palms.
But this United side do not appear to thrive when things are simple. The recent wins over Chelsea, Liverpool, City and now Spurs show a team most alive when the danger is greatest, with a nose for blood and an eye for the kill.
It explains their soporific efforts against negligible threats like West Brom and resulting lack of a top-flight title challenge over the past two seasons as well as it does Mourinho guiding them to a third cup final in five attempts. To join the ranks of league winners they must develop a taste for the mundane.
Being the poster boy for such a team must feel like a thankless task for Pogba at times, but not today – even if his was not the kind of landslide triumph to stop the debate in its tracks. Maybe that comes in the final.
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