Yes, yes, this is just a single play. One pass doesn’t prove a player is good or consistent or any of the other positive traits needed to attain elite status. But just look at this ridiculous heat seaker of a pass and try to argue, as many have done this season, that Paul Pogba isn’t awesome:
And anyway, it’s not just this pass’s impressiveness that testifies to the Frenchman’s abilities. Pogba’s long ball that led to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal wasn’t an assist, wasn’t a “key pass,” and probably isn’t even technically a hockey assist, since Marcus Rashford tried and failed to make a pass to Zlatan Ibrahimović before recovering the deflected ball and laying it off to Mkhitaryan. But while it won’t show up in the basic stats, it was Pogba’s pass that directly created the goal, and it was the exact kind of non-statistical play that makes up the bulk of a true central midfielder’s game.
Pogba hasn’t been a consistently dominating force in Manchester United’s team this season, but it’s not because he hasn’t racked up enough goals or assists, the stats many of his dumber detractors point to as evidence of his underperformance. Even the very best midfielders don’t score many goals or compile a bunch of assists. To appreciate why Pogba has in fact been good this season, you need to watch for pre-assists like the one above, to look out for the more advanced metrics, and pay attention to the myriad other, more subtle things he does deep in the middle of the pitch that help his team score and win.
Those are the plays that make a central midfielder great. And it’s those kind of plays Pogba has been making more regularly than he usually gets credit for.