But from somewhere, somehow, United turned the tide and delayed City’s Premier League title party just a little further with a rousing comeback inspired by a man who had been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Whether it is his questionable hairstyles, the questionable actions of his agent or just his questionable play, Pogba has not cut a happy figure in Manchester. Yet Saturday’s two-goal display was a timely reminder of why he was bought by United for a record fee in the first place.
Our writers Matt Monaghan, Chris Bailey and Tom Biggs have their say on whether Pogba has turned a corner at Old Trafford for good.
Will Pogba stay at Manchester United this summer?
MM: United, both on and off the pitch, have too much invested in Pogba to cut him loose after just two seasons. As his weekend brace showcased, a premium footballer lies within. Manager Jose Mourinho would not have been blind to what went on at Etihad Stadium. Kit sponsors adidas have also chosen to invest more than £780 million (Dh4 billion) in both club and player. Pogba’s star power is central to selling this relationship.
CB: Didn’t sound like such a foolish idea 48 hours ago, did it? But one display should not discount that he’s been routinely benched by Jose Mourinho and been offered to Man City by his own agent. It would still take a mega offer to convince both United and Pogba his future lies elsewhere without giving it another season at least. But what if Neymar leaves PSG and the French giants come sniffing? Stranger things …
TB: Say what? There’s no chance of Pogba leaving this summer. One reason being the fact no club would want to pay the fee Manchester United would be expecting for the midfielder, who cost over €100m (Dh451.7m) just two seasons ago. The other being his manager knows just how big an influence he has on the team when he’s at his best. Pogba isn’t going anywhere. His manager needs him.
Has Jose Mourinho been to blame for his poor form?
MM: Responsibility for Pogba’s slump must be shared. Mourinho only had to review an underwhelming Euro 2016 campaign as part of a deep-lying two-man midfield to ascertain the effectiveness of this deployment. Regular shifts since between a 4-2-3-1 and Pogba’s favoured 4-3-3 formations can’t help, either. Yet this alone doesn’t excuse a goal drought at club level that stretched to four months. Or the measly 74.1 per cent pass accuracy when Sevilla raided Old Trafford in the Champions League.
CB: When one of his players struggles to take instructions repeatedly, Mourinho has no qualms about giving them short shrift – regardless of star power or price tags. Luke Shaw is just one example. It stands to reason that Pogba will have been incredibly frustrating to work with this year, but when Mourinho’s patience snaps – as it clearly had done – it only worsens the problem for a player.
TB: Pogba and Mourinho must share the blame. The former Juventus man hasn’t looked interested at times, but that has perhaps stemmed from frustration born out of his manager’s cautious approach and setup. While Mourinho must give Pogba and United more freedom if they are to progress, the midfielder himself needs to step up on a regular basis, and not just when he’s in the mood, as he was on Saturday.
Who would be the ideal signing alongside Pogba?
MM: United should look to north London when it comes to bolstering their midfield. Aaron Ramsey’s delivered a superb seven assists and nine goals amid Arsenal’s miserable 2017/18. Pogba will be pleased to hear this has come as part of a midfield two, meaning he’d be freed to roam. The Wales international will also soon have just one year left on his deal – a situation United previously took advantage of with Robin van Persie and Alexis Sanchez.
CB: Pogba doesn’t do discipline – in fact, too much of it is a bad thing as it inhibits the Frenchman’s natural je ne sais quoi. A player with defensive nous and a passing range the size of the Himalayas would be handy. A player like that is not easy to come by, but Napoli’s Jorginho perhaps fits the bill. He has been instrumental in the club’s Serie A title challenge and at 26, wouldn’t be a young pup at the mercy of the Premier League.
TB: Mourinho needs a box-to-box midfielder to play alongside Pogba and the more defensive minded Nemanja Matic. The energy provided would allow the Frenchman more license to roam, just as he did to great effect in the second half against Manchester City. The best player to do that? If United can once again trump their Manchester rivals to a signing, as they did with Alexis Sanchez, then Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred would be ideal.
Paul Pogba ended his 21-game scoreless streak in style. pic.twitter.com/r3cS0AsIVs— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 7, 2018
Liverpool midfielder James Milner insists the coordinated approach to the team’s defensive organisation will be key to keeping Manchester City at bay in the Champions League.
The Reds take a 3-0 lead to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday for the second leg of their quarter-final, knowing a clean sheet will put them into the last four of the competition for the first time since 2007.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have registered back-to-back clean sheets, following up their European win with a goalless draw in the Merseyside derby at Everton, and that has given them more confidence ahead of their trip to Manchester.
Milner has been the key player in both games and while the 32-year-old is making light of his age in terms of the job he does pressing in midfield, he stressed he is just a cog in the whole machine.
“My running numbers are pretty consistent throughout the year, we get them regularly but I think it was slightly higher the other night (against City),” he said.
“That is part of the midfield job and it’s been part of my game being able to cover ground and it is something that’s needed in this team.
“We are always pressing and you can’t leave your mate to press on his own, you have to press in numbers and if one person doesn’t do their job or get on the front foot and cover the ground and close the gap then the team gets out and you are under pressure.
“Everyone puts a shift in and it’s very easy to see when someone isn’t doing it – and it doesn’t happen very often.”
City’s defeat in the Manchester derby on Saturday was the first time a Pep Guardiola side had conceded three goals in successive games in his 514-match managerial career.
That gives Liverpool hope of snatching an away goal which would require City to score five on Tuesday, but the first priority is to keep their opponents at bay for as long as possible.
“They are a top team, we know that. There are a lot of things which could affect it but we are in a good position,” Milner added.
“But we know it is not over yet as they are a special team and good going forward and we have to be ready to defend well and hopefully get a goal.
“They are such a good team and have such good players going forward we want to approach it as we approach every game, try and win the game and approach it as a one-off and play the match over 90 minutes.
“We’ve got a 3-0 advantage at half-time so it’s down to us not to sit back and be on the front foot.”
Klopp will hope to have some good news on the injury front after fielding an understrength side at Goodison Park, which almost backfired with Seamus Coleman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both missing good chances to end Everton’s 17-match run without a derby win.
The Liverpool manager left out Mohamed Salah as he recovers from a groin problem and named Roberto Firmino on the bench along with three academy players in Curtis Jones, Rafael Camacho and Conor Masterson, who were only issued with Premier League squad numbers on Friday.
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Danilo insists Manchester City cannot allow the disappointment of their capitulation against Manchester United to fester given the scale of their Champions League challenge against Liverpool.
Things have gone awry for Pep Guardiola’s swashbuckling side in recent days, with Wednesday’s shock 3-0 Champions League quarter-final loss at Anfield compounded by an astonishing 3-2 derby defeat on Saturday.
Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan goals put City on course for a victory that would seal the Premier League title, only for United to return reinvigorated from half-time and act as party poopers thanks to Paul Pogba’s brace and a Chris Smalling volley.
“Well, without doubt the atmosphere, the feeling, is of sadness, of disappointment,” full-back Danilo said of the dressing room.
“We started the game really well, but we must return to the pitch as soon as possible because on Tuesday we have another big challenge to overcome a result.
“Without any doubt (the City fans were great). We need to thank them all.
“Not just for today but all the season, but especially the atmosphere they created today was amazing.
“They helped us until the last minute and I am sure they could help us a lot against Liverpool if they are able to create that atmosphere again and try to help us to overcome the result.”
Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg against Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium is going to be an uphill battle for City, with recovering a three-goal deficit tough enough before factoring in the impact of a potential away goal.
It will also be an interesting mental test for City after wasting the chance to win the Premier League and conceding three goals in a second successive match – the first time that has happened in Guardiola’s managerial career.
A Pep Guardiola team has suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time in almost 3 years, since with Bayern Munich in May 2015 pic.twitter.com/rYmW3uHtnR— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) April 7, 2018
“Well, I could tell you many, many reasons why we didn’t win today,” Danilo told CityTV.
“It could be missing chances but at the end of the day they scored three goals, we scored two and that’s all that counts.
“But we must be together. When we win, we win together and when we lose, we lose together.
“We need to keep going and (keep) the heads up.”
Asked whether it was a case of United being that much better in the second half or tiredness from Anfield creeping into the City side, the Brazil international retorted: “I don’t agree with you because if you see the statistics of the game, you analyse the game, we had the ball possession, we had the control.
“They just used the long balls, they scored three goals and that all happened today.
“We played the same way we done all the season, we kept the same level of performance, but today it didn’t work.”
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