Pogba a major factor in United's Europe ambitions

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba (left) share a light moment in training ahead of their match against Basel. Pogba's return to the side has already reaped dividends for Jose Mourinho's men against Newcastle, and may yet edge them to t
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba (left) share a light moment in training ahead of their match against Basel. Pogba's return to the side has already reaped dividends for Jose Mourinho's men against Newcastle, and may yet edge them to the point they need to seal top spot in their Champions League group.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • He does not yet enjoy cult status like team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Paul Pogba's display on his comeback from injury showed his importance to Manchester United is second to none.

Having toiled in Pogba's two-month absence, recently taking four points from a possible 12 in the Premier League, United rediscovered their swagger against Newcastle last Saturday when the Frenchman made his return with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 comeback win.

"He affects our football," summarised United manager Jose Mourinho. "We all know, myself and the fellow players, that certain players influence the levels of the team. With him we have much more creation."

United travel to Switzerland to take on FC Basel tonight in the Champions League needing a draw to confirm top spot in Group A.

Mourinho has hinted Pogba, who had injured his hamstring against Basel on Sept 12, could be rested for the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion to Old Trafford on Saturday.

But whether he plays or not, the midfielder's return to fitness has given the team a major lift thanks to his "confidence and arrogance", said former United captain Gary Neville earlier this month after the 1-0 defeat at Chelsea.

"He takes the ball into tight areas, holds the ball, beats a man."

FRENCHMAN MAKES THE TEAM TICK

I don't think they have a good enough No. 10 at the moment and that doesn't help Lukaku either. Lukaku is having to do a lot for himself, but Pogba will make the difference.

PAUL SCHOLES, ex-Manchester United midfielder, on current United midfielder Paul Pogba's role in the team.

Paul Scholes, meanwhile, said Pogba's unavailability explained why striker Romelu Lukaku had suddenly gone off the boil.

"He (Pogba) links the team together," said the former United midfielder. "I don't think they have a good enough No. 10 at the moment and that doesn't help Lukaku either. Lukaku is having to do a lot for himself, but Pogba will make the difference."

With Pogba in the team, United have scored 16 goals in five Premier League games this season, at an average of 3.2 per game. When he is absent, that figure halves.

The 24-year-old has been directly responsible for eight goals in his last six league appearances - four goals, four assists - and with him and Ibrahimovic back on the scene, confidence is flooding back.

Spain midfielder Juan Mata wrote on his weekly blog ahead of the Basel trip: "They are second in the group and are currently level on points with CSKA Moscow, which shows the importance of this game for them, but also for us: we are Manchester United and we are committed to winning every single game."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BASEL V MAN UNITED

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Pogba a major factor in United's Europe ambitions'. Print Edition | Subscribe