It’s always difficult analyzing or discussing Paul Pogba. I’ve found myself on both sides of it just in the past year or two. How good was he at Juventus? Isn’t it easier to play when Claudio Marchisio is doing some of your running and Andrea Pirlo is there to spread passes to you? Maybe, but eight goals and 12 assists in Serie A at 21 is still something.
Perhaps Pogba has always had the unfair lens of being one of Manchester United’s biggest mistakes, letting him go to Juve in the first place, and the massive outlay to bring him back was seen as that being corrected. But merely getting him there isn’t correcting it. Not only did he have to play well, he had to play well enough to make everyone feel better about what they might have missed when he was in Italy. But you can’t rack up goals and assists for previous years. Those are constantly moving goalposts.
As always, the truth is in the middle and involves nuance, which no one has any time for these days. Pogba certainly has been held up to unfair standards, while often surrounded by utter trash at United until Bruno Fernandes arrived. But he also didn’t do himself any favors with some performances that would have had Vladimir and Estragon wondering why nothing was happening. But players, and people, like Pogba seem to have a “selfish” or “lazy” label attached to them awfully easily. Can’t imagine why.
While the complaints at times have been that Pogba is played out of position in Manchester, either on the left of midfield or too deep behind Fernandes, he hasn’t really done enough to justify putting him where he’s best with United.
Not so with France, which we saw yesterday.
Any discussion of Pogba’s game against Germany has to start with his pass that created the only goal of the game.
Lucas Hernandez isn’t even on the screen when Pogba makes this pass, and it’s a wonder if he ever even saw him so much as just knew he would be there. The weight is so good that Hernandez doesn’t even have to take a touch to control it, because the ball is basically sitting there begging to be passed on. That weirdo from American Beauty would have been filming it and crying, though this time Thora Birch would probably be sick of his shit. The combination of vision and skill here are only possessed by a select few. This is seeing the game in a way and at a level that is truly inspirational.
Pogba would have had one or two other assists or hockey-assists if Kylian Mbappé wasn’t so fast it’s nearly impossible for him to keep himself onside, and you can look for more through balls this tournament from Pogba where Mbappé will be onside and no one’s going to be able to do anything about it. You’ll probably be able to hear defenses being ripped open like an autopsy.
Pogba had the most touches of anyone on France, completed the second-most dribbles, and was even second in tackles behind cyborg N’Golo Kanté.
And he also found time to do this to Toni Kroos, which left Kroos nothing but a husk of despair:
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pogba’s performance is that almost all of the impressive stats and work came in the first half, as after France took the lead they basically sat on Germany’s chest and looked at their watch. Rarely did anyone other than the three forwards cross the halfway line. Germany eventually amassed 62 percent of the possession, but only created 0.84 expected goals, and 0.4 in the second half when they had all the ball. By passes per defensive action, which essentially measures how quickly teams press to get the ball back, France were twice as sleepy as Sweden, who had 15 percent possession against Spain. France was basically just north of being cardboard cutouts, and yet were rarely threatened.
Obviously, no club team can provide the platform Pogba gets with France. Not only do they have Kanté doing the running and tackling and passing of two or three guys, but Adrien Rabiot is as cultured as it gets and can be whatever is needed — the bridge to Pogba, alongside him, or even ahead of him. Pogba is free to “try shit” without fear of turnovers being turned into counters or his forwards bumbling it or being caught upfield and leaving the midfield exposed.
But this is France’s model. Though they could probably thrash most teams 5-0, that might also leave them open to a weird defeat. Didier Deschamps has found it much easier to send out his team to simply be impenetrable, and they can create enough chances through just three or four players to get whatever goals, or goal, they need.
When Pogba is harnessing this kind of silliness, for the benefit of those forwards, Deschamps is absolutely right.