Since Paul Pogba's £89m transfer from Juventus to Manchester United in August 2016, the Frenchman has had high hopes resting on his shoulders.
The extravagant haircuts, the flirtations with other clubs and crude comments from his agent have only helped to increase the expectations. With recent rumours of Real Madrid making a move for Pogba, he has at times become a scapegoat at Manchester United.
Whilst some people would argue that the Frenchman should be more consistent for a man of his talent, aside from Pogba there is a serious lack of creativity in Manchester United's midfield.
Pogba has had the most productive season of his Manchester United career, registering 14 goals and 10 assists in 39 appearances in all competitions. He has more goals and assists than fellow midfielders Fred, Matic and Herrera have combined.
With Fred struggling to adapt in his first season at the club and Matic and Herrera being more defensively inclined, there is great pressure on Pogba to create chances from deep.
The World Cup winner had a public falling out with Jose Mourinho and it was no surprise that his form picked up once Mourinho was sacked and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed caretaker manager in December. Pogba was rejuvenated and his form has helped propel Manchester United into contention for the top four, having been 11 points adrift when Mourinho was sacked.
However, Solskjaer's side have suffered a dip in form in recent weeks, recording three defeats in four games in all competitions with a fortunate win over Watford where they were largely outplayed. It is no coincidence that Pogba failed to score or assist in any of those games.
In the 2-1 Premier League defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers last week, Pogba recorded a season-low pass completion of 69% but still managed to create five chances from open play during the game, more than any other Manchester United player. In many ways, this personifies Pogba's game. He is more likely to give the ball away than any other United midfielder but he is also without a doubt the most creative player in the team.
This encapsulates one of the glaring weaknesses of this current Manchester United side.
If Pogba is shackled or has a quiet game, who is going to create the chances for the team?
Pogba entered the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie against PSG in a rich vein of form and PSG manager Thomas Tuchel decided to have Marquinhos man-mark the Frenchman. Marquinhos gave Pogba very little time and space on the ball, and he became more and more frustrated, before being sent off late on. PSG had neutralised Manchester United's most creative player and ran out comfortable 2-0 victors.
Without Pogba, United defied the odds to to win the second leg 3-1, with Marcus Rashford scoring a last-minute penalty to send the English side through to the quarter-finals. However, with all three goals the result of elementary errors by PSG, United benefitted from a great deal of fortune that they should not expect from sides such as their quarter-final opponents, Barcelona.
This season Pogba has shown that he can be Manchester United's creative spark and that he can make meaningful contributions in big games. In the Premier League game against Tottenham at Wembley in January, it was Pogba's defence-splitting pass that set up Rashford to score the winning goal. There was also the man-of the-match performance against Chelsea in the fifth-round of FA Cup where he had a goal and and assist as United won 2-0.
If Solskjaer's side are to mount a title challenge next season, it is imperative that Manchester United not only keep Pogba but surround the World Cup winner with creative midfield players that will ease the burden that is currently on his shoulders.
In the short-term, United will need Pogba to be at his creative best to overcome Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals and help guide the Red Devils to a top-four finish.
Source : 90min