Man United are rediscovering their swagger with Paul Pogba back in the side

David Cooper 21/11/2017
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He does not yet share team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s cult status, but Paul Pogba’s display on his comeback from injury showed his importance to Manchester United is second to none.

Having toiled in Pogba’s absence, recently taking four points from a possible 12 in the Premier League, United rediscovered their swagger against Newcastle United on Saturday when the Frenchman made his return.

With a goal and an assist in a 4-1 comeback win, Pogba was the man of the match and his overall display helped United find a level they have struggled to reach during his two-month absence.

“He affects our football,” summarised United manager Jose Mourinho.

“We all know, myself and the fellow players, that certain players influence the levels of the team. With him we have much more creation.”

Though he has often dazzled with his long-legged technical artistry, the recognition of Pogba’s influence on United’s play has been slow in coming.

His then world-record £89.3million transfer from Juventus last year created huge expectations and although his first season was successful, there were few fireworks.

Pogba finished the season with nine goals in 51 appearances and winner’s medals in both the League Cup and Europa League, his goal in the final of the latter setting United en route to victory over Ajax.

But he could not compete with Ibrahimovic, whose goal-scoring feats and larger-than-life persona immediately made him a favourite with the Old Trafford faithful. United’s fans had invented a song for Ibrahimovic – their “Swedish hero” – before he had even made his official debut.

Anthony Martial, too, is regularly serenaded, but Pogba is still waiting for an ode in his honour to take root.

With Ibrahimovic sidelined by an injury of his own, Pogba took centre-stage in the opening weeks of the current campaign as United made an impressive start to the season.

– ‘Confidence and arrogance’ –

Yet it was only during the period of absence brought on by the hamstring injury Pogba sustained against Basel on September 12 that his importance began to be truly acknowledged.

“I think Pogba is a big miss because of his confidence and arrogance,” said former United captain Gary Neville after Mourinho’s men succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.

“He takes the ball into tight areas, holds the ball, beats a man.”

Paul Scholes, meanwhile, said Pogba’s unavailability explained why Romelu Lukaku had suddenly gone off the boil.

“He (Pogba) links the team together,” said the former United midfielder.

“I don’t think they have a good enough number 10 at the moment and that doesn’t help Lukaku either. Lukaku is having to do a lot for himself, but Pogba will make the difference.”

With Pogba in the team, United have scored 16 goals in five Premier League games this season, at an average of 3.2 per game. When Pogba is not playing, the average goals figure halves.

The 24-year-old has been directly responsible for eight goals in his last six league appearances – four goals, four assists – and with him and Ibrahimovic back on the scene, confidence is flooding back.

Manchester City opened up an eight-point lead over United while Pogba was convalescing, but both he and Ibrahimovic spoke optimistically about reeling in Pep Guardiola’s side after Saturday’s game.

While United have lost ground in the league, they have not missed a beat in the Champions League and visit Basel on Wednesday needing just a point to reach the knockout phase as group winners.

Mourinho has indicated Pogba could be rested, but whether he plays or not, his return to fitness has given United a major lift.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Man City to battle Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk in January while David De Gea is still a target for Real Madrid

David Cooper 21/11/2017
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Red or blue? Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk

The transfer window may not open again until January 1 2018 but that hasn’t put an end to plenty of speculation throughout Europe.

Here, we take a look at three big stories dominating the headlines on Tuesday.

Will any of the following deals happen?

Let us know your thoughts.

Get in touch via Twitter and Facebook.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK

Manchester City will lock horns with Liverpool for the signature of Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, according to the Mirror.

Pep Guardiola is looking to reinforce his backline in January as City look to maintain pace at the top of the Premier League and could target the Dutch defender.

RATING: 6/10

VERDICT

City were one of a trio of Premier League sides in contention to sign Van Dijk in the summer alongside Chelsea and Liverpool but the Reds still appear to be the frontrunners.

The 26-year-old is likely to exit in January with the Netherlands international Jurgen Klopp’s top target but Guardiola could mount a serious bid with the injury record of Vincent Kompany hardly bringing any confidence.

DAVID DE GEA 

Real Madrid are set to return for Manchester United’s David Gea with Cadena SER reporting he is still Los Blancos’ No1 goalkeeping target.

The reigning European and Spanish champions have been linked with moves for a myriad of stoppers, including Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga but are said to prefer spending €70million on De Gea rather than €50m for the latter.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

Arguably the best keeper in Europe, it’s no surprise Real remain interested but whether or not they can actually prise De Gea away from Old Trafford is a different story.

Any bid won’t arrive until the summer but if rumours begin to surface of United targeting replacements then it’s a sure sign the conversation between the clubs has already started.

Man United's Spanish stopper David De Gea

Man United’s Spanish stopper David De Gea

LUKE SHAW

Tottenham are exploring the possibility of signing Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw in January, reports the Irish Independent.

The move would see Shaw link back up with the manager he worked with at Southampton and could see Danny Rose go in the opposite direction.

RATING: 7/10

VERDICT

Shaw has been cast aside by United boss Jose Mourinho and a switch to Spurs to return working with a coach who is said to be a mentor to him could be the reboot he needs.

With United interested in Rose it’s a deal which could well come to fruition.

Shaw has made just two appearances this season, both in the League Cup

Shaw has made just two appearances this season, both in the League Cup

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Al Ain star Berg on Sweden return for Man United's Ibrahimovic

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Double act: Marcus Berg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be reunited for Sweden (Getty).

One name, predictably, began to dominate from the moment Sweden’s memorable ascension to World Cup 2018 was secured at Italy’s expense.

From last week’s tantalising “We are Zweden” celebratory tweet to a timely return for Manchester United this Saturday after seven months sidelined through injury, rampant speculation about whether the iconic and enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic will end his international retirement hasn’t ceased.

Even placed more than 7,000 kilometres away in the bowels of Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, former – and potentially future – Blagult strike partner Marcus Berg was not spared questioning about the status of Swedish football’s defining figure.

“I do not know what will happen,” he tells Sport360° minutes after Friday’s rollercoaster 2-2 draw with depleted Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira, in which his early brace was dramatically cancelled out by UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout. “There have been a lot of discussions and it is, first of all, up to Ibra if he comes back fit and wants to do it.

“Then, it is a question for the coach. He is a world-class striker.

“He’s been away for some months, so it is maybe difficult at his age [36]. But I believe that he will come back as strong as he was before.”

It is more than a year since Ibrahimovic last pulled on Sweden’s trademark yellow jersey. His retirement in the wake of a dreary group-stage exit at Euro 2016 saw him bow out as national top scorer, with 62 goals in 116 appearances.

Throughout the – so far – final cycle of his international career, a productive partnership with Berg was established. Yet freed of the great man’s presence, Sweden’s current no9 has blossomed.

A vital eight goals in 11 qualifiers on the Road to Russia – including four against minnows Luxembourg – set his nation on their way to a play-off against the Azzurri. There, a resolute display during both legs ensured their progression at the expense of four-time champions who last failed to feature in 1958.

But would the potential comeback of Ibrahimovic present a threat?

Berg replies: “I do not think like that. For me, I just focus on myself to help the team and do my best on the pitch.

“Then, it is up to the coach [Janne Andersson] to decide.

“We had a good feeling on the pitch. He is a fantastic player, so for me I just tried to move around him to create space for me and for him.

“I had a good last two years with him before he quit.”

June’s move away from the sport’s European heartland has not held Berg back, thus far. An impressive six goals in seven top-flight run-outs has followed a 3.3 million (Dh14.3m) switch from Greece’s Panathinaikos, meaning he’s remained prolific for club and country.

Berg is fully aware of the symbiosis between gaining further success for the UAE’s most-decorated team in 2017/18 and sustaining his starting spot for Sweden at their first World Cup since 2006.

“We all want to play there, not all the players get the chance to play at a World Cup,” says Berg, who currently possesses 18 international goals in 52 matches.

“For me, it is a big, big dream. I hope to have a good season with Al Ain and achieve big things, after I’ll go to the World Cup.”

The painful stalemate in ‘Al Clasico’ ensured that Al Wasl gained sole leadership in the AGL. Al Ain will hope to stay in the hunt on Thursday when they travel to minnows Dibba Al Fujairah.

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