Football Features

Shop window or for Man Utd fans? The eight games Paul Pogba’s next club could hinge on

By Dr Rajpal Brar

Published: 18:32, 20 January 2022

Paul Pogba might be entering the last six months of his Manchester United career.

Pogba first joined the Red Devils at the age of 16, winning the FA Youth Cup before leaving aged 18 over a lack of first-team opportunities. He joined Juventus, made himself a superstar and then rejoined United in 2018.

All told, Pogba has spent about 10 years at the club and is currently sitting on 219 appearances for United. Yet frustration over the side’s inability to regularly and consistently challenge for titles and make the latter stages of the Champions League has led World Cup winner Pogba to stall on signing a new contract, up to the point that his deal now expires in June. A season that began with the Frenchman getting four assists in a single game could end in his departure.

Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick isn’t even pretending otherwise. When asked about whether or not he’d play Pogba due to his contract expiring, the German coach said: “Why shouldn’t Paul Pogba now, after two and a half months of injury, fully fit again [not play], and he wants to show the fans of Manchester United, the board, the whole world what kind of player he can be? Even if it’s only to show enough for a new contract elsewhere, he will be highly motivated to do that, and why should I then not play him?”

But which games are there for Pogba to show the world what kind of player he can be? Obviously any game can be a showcase, but what are the crunch clashes for Pogba to strut his stuff? Let’s have a look:

Manchester United vs Middlesbrough

FA Cup – Old Trafford – February 4

This fixture may not exactly stand out as a big game, but recall that it will be Pogba’s first appearance at Old Trafford since the 5-0 mauling at the hands of Liverpool. The Frenchman only played 15 minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute before getting sent off for a foul on Naby Keita. He knows he has to do better, and will want to instantly win over the United faithful.

Atlético Madrid vs Manchester United

Champions League – Wanda Metropolitano – February 23

This is the kind of giant stage Pogba usually thrives on, an away tie in Europe against a heavyweight opponent. Given the tie is away from home, we may see Rangnick deploy Pogba off the bench or playing in a more advanced position (as one of the attacking midfielders in his 4-2-2-2, for instance) rather than at the heart of midfield.

Manchester City vs Manchester United

Premier League – Etihad Stadium – March 5

This is the big one. Pogba’s brace in the 3-2 win at the Etihad back in 2018 is one of the brightest moments of his United career, and what’s interesting is that he’s only played City four times since then thanks to injury, all of which have come at Old Trafford (two in the league, two in the EFL Cup). This will be his first trip across town since that 2018 win and his ability to break lines with his movement and threaten goal could prove key to Rangnick pulling off a huge upset.

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Manchester United vs Tottenham

Premier League – Old Trafford – March 12

After the City game comes the international break, but the very next match on United’s calendar is a home match against Spurs. Now, United’s 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was one of the highlights of this season, and indeed forced Spurs into sacking Nuno Espirito Santo and appointing Antonio Conte. And by March, the Italian will have had plenty of time to ruthlessly drill his methods into Spurs.

However, Pogba will be aware that while Antonio Conte has won four of his six games against United, including the 2018 FA Cup final won 1-0 by Chelsea, both times he has visited Old Trafford he has lost with Pogba taking a central role both times.

Manchester United vs Atlético Madrid

Champions League – Old Trafford – March 15

Given this game will be the second leg, it’s much more likely that Pogba will get the start. Whether that’s in a deeper role or playing higher up on the left, Rangnick will know that Pogba’s perceptive passing will be key to giving Cristiano Ronaldo the opportunities he needs to sink Diego Simeone yet again.

Liverpool vs Manchester United

Premier League – Anfield – March 19

If any game would offer the best possible platform for Pogba to show not only how good he is but how important he is to the United side, it’s the grudge match against Liverpool at Anfield. United will be eager to get some pride back after the 5-0 drubbing, but the bad news is that as much as Pogba has had bright moments against Liverpool, he’s beaten them just once in the seven times he’s played them. And coming off a week in which they’ll have played Spurs and Atleti, probably best not to expect much.

Champions League?

Should Man Utd get beyond Atlético Madrid, then they’d be in the elite eight of the Champions League and Pogba would be given two more colossal European nights to strut his stuff. And if they got a friendly draw, who knows, a possible semi-final berth.

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FA Cup?

Similar to the Champions League, if United can get by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup there’s no telling how far they could go. And while FA Cup glamour ties are rare until the latter stages, who’s to say United won’t do just that? The FA Cup is a competition Pogba has failed to win, most notably in 2018 when he played all 90 minutes as they lost the final to Chelsea.

Arsenal vs Manchester United

Premier League – Emirates Stadium – April 23

Late in April comes a trip to the Emirates to take on Arsenal, and this is a game where Pogba has not always shown his best. However, the notable exceptions are the big 3-1 wins in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Pogba’s ability to break lines with the ball at his feet, when combined with great runners, has undone the Gunners before. Can he do it again, especially with all the improvements Mikel Arteta has made to Arsenal? It should be fun to watch him try.

Manchester United vs Chelsea

Premier League – Old Trafford – May 15

Barring any cup runs or a surprise contract renewal, the final big game that Paul Pogba will play as a Manchester United player is the home clash against Chelsea. And if this is to be the final chance for Pogba to impress potential suitors he can’t have asked for a better game than a clash against Jorginho and his compatriot N’Golo Kanté.

The last time United beat Chelsea at Old Trafford, it was a resounding 4-0 win with Pogba’s rampaging from midfield proving key to the dominance. Whether he does that again or provides the precision passes to pick off a Chelsea side likely to have their focus elsewhere as they try to renew the contracts of several key defenders (or perhaps prepare for another major cup final) it’s likely he will go out on a high.

Where next for Pogba?

Let’s say he does leave, what are the best and worst-case destinations for the Frenchman? We’ve had a quick look.

Best-case scenario: Real Madrid

There would be no greater scenario for Paul Pogba than for him to follow in Zinedine Zidane’s footsteps as a mercurial and inconsistent French genius and join Real Madrid. Pogba would allow Los Blancos to transition away from their reliance on Luka Modric and his partnership with Toni Kroos would set new records in terms of passes completed vs distance covered. Moreover, joining the club at the same time as compatriot Kylian Mbappé would no doubt be a joy for the prolific playmaker.

For what it’s worth, Pogba is currently 20/1* to join Real Madrid in the January transfer window.

All odds in this article are provided by Sky Bet and are correct at the time of being published (18:30, 20/01/22). 18+ only. BeGambleAware.

A middle-ground: Juventus

While it would hardly be a disaster for Pogba to return to Italy and play for former club Juventus, it would be decidedly underwhelming and something of a sideways step given where Juve are at the moment. They’re far from their peak but Pogba could become a key midfield piece as the Old Lady look to set up the next few seasons of domination. The Frenchman is currently 16/1 to join Juventus this month.

Worst-case scenario: Newcastle

Pogba’s gambit that there will be a market for him come the summer makes sense given his talent level, his reputation and the fact that he would be a free transfer. However, there would be nothing worse for the Frenchman than if none of the game’s elite came in for him, United showed no interest in bringing him back and he was forced to join a lower-rated club with money to burn like RB Leipzig or, even worse, Newcastle. The Magpies could certainly reward him will financially, but in terms of his sporting reputation it would be a disaster (rated at 25/1 to go ahead during the current transfer window).