As unbeaten Liverpool gear up to take on an underperforming Manchester United in the Premier League, pundits have begun doing combined XIs for the sides. Gary Neville on Monday Night Football put Paul Pogba alongside two Liverpool midfielders (Wijnaldum and Keita) much to the amusement of Jamie Carragher and, well, me.
Liverpool’s success this season has been built on a number of things but one of those has been the reliability of the midfield trio in the Premier League. The three most frequent members of that midfield are Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum.
Down the M62, Pogba has been chastised at times for not seeming to try and not really performing. So, his inclusion baffled me and led me to question whether Pogba has been quietly having a great season or was it Neville’s United roots coming out?
So, what do the stats say?
The first area to look at is passing and what is interesting is that Pogba does not fare massively well against Liverpool’s three most frequent midfielders in Henderson, Wijnaldum and Milner.
Pogba ranks second in passes completed in the Premier League with 658 which is 90 fewer than Gini Wijnaldum. That should be prefaced though with the fact that Wijnaldum has made one more appearance and played 169 more minutes than the Frenchman. However, that does not deter from the fact that Pogba is some distance behind the Dutchman. That statistic looks far worse too when you account for the fact that James Milner is only 40 behind Pogba in 161 fewer minutes of football.
Forward passes also count against Pogba as the Frenchman comes in third with 175, 12 behind Milner (187) and a whopping 53 behind Wijnaldum (228). Some of this can be attributed to United’s tactical set-up but for a player so coveted for his attacking capabilities, that number is worryingly low. It’s even more worrying when you account for Jordan Henderson (145), 30 behind in nearly 300 fewer minutes.
It’s not all bad for Pogba though. Only James Milner (19) has created more chances than him in total with Pogba more than doubling Wijnaldum (7). Take away set-pieces and Pogba is miles ahead of Milner and Wijnaldum (both 7).
So, while Pogba may not be a standout at passing the football all the time when compared to Liverpool’s midfielders, the statistics still show that he has that ‘x-factor’ in open play that can create chances.
Defensively, Pogba fares even worse. While he leads in total clearances (20), his number of interceptions is a measly 5 and less than half of Milner’s (14). One of the great criticisms of Pogba is that he is far too lazy defensively and too much of a liability for Mourinho’s side. That sentiment is aided by the fact that, while Pogba attempted more tackles (38) than Henderson (27) and Wijnaldum (28), he actually made the fewest of the four combined with just 14.
Overall, while Pogba’s numbers do not indicate a defensive maestro, they also do not show that he is a complete defensive liability.
So, based on the stats does Paul Pogba deserve to be in Gary Neville’s combined XI? The answer is complicated. While Pogba certainly has struggled this season and not shown his complete best, he still posts some impressive stats in certain areas. The answer comes down to personal preference in the end though as Pogba very often beats out Jordan Henderson when looking at the stats.
As for the big question on whether Pogba would get into Liverpool’s midfield? The answer is probably but with some caveats. There is no doubt that Jurgen Klopp would love to have Pogba’s ingenuity and creativity from midfield that can help to break down stubborn low block defences. However, his defensive contributions are far too limited currently to even imagine him playing for Liverpool.
In the end, Pogba is a wildly talented footballer in a horrible environment for him right now. While there are glimmers of a top player in some of his statistics, I’m sure many Liverpool fans would much rather have the midfielders at the club right now than United’s mercurial Frenchman.
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