Manchester United are going to take on Liverpool this weekend in a massive clash with huge title race implications.
Liverpool currently sit second on goal difference, and they know that with Manchester City occupied by the Carabao Cup final this weekend any positive result will send them top of the table. However, standing in their way is the imperious Paul Pogba and Manchester United.
The Frenchman has been absolutely sensational since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in late December. He’s been the Premier League’s form player in that time, displaying the incredible range of his skill-set. Defending and attacking come to Pogba so naturally, there really is nothing he can’t do.
This places him in marked contrast to the Liverpool midfielders who are a collection of specialists (and James Milner), each one bringing something unique to Jurgen Klopp’s side and forming a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. But is it greater than Paul Pogba? How does United’s star man compare to Liverpool’s specialist unit? We’ve had a look!
(All metrics are per-90 minutes)
Defending vs. Fabinho
Fabinho was signed this summer and after a tricky settling-in period, the Brazilian has now become an essential member of Liverpool’s defensive structure. He’s truly an impassable force at the base of midfield, but how does his defensive contribution stack up to Pogba’s?
Pogba’s interception numbers are much lower (0.47 vs. Fabinho’s 1.29) that can be easily explained by the position they play. It’s Fabinho’s job as the defensive midfielder to intercept passes, meanwhile Pogba plays further forward and isn’t engaging in a high press.
When it comes to tackling, Fabinho attempts an impressive 2.51, completing 42% of those at 1.06. Impressive numbers, and whilst Pogba attempts much less (1.31) he does so with greater efficiency. 60% of his tackles are won (0.79) and paint the picture of a player who chooses the best possible moments to tackle an opponent and then usually does so with efficiency.
Specialists 1-0 Pogba
Ball-carrying vs. Keita
Naby Keita adds so many things to the Liverpool midfield and, eventually, Jurgen Klopp would like him to be an all-around talent like the Frenchman. Keita clearly has that skill-set he just needs time to find himself in the hurly burly of the Premier League.
His dribbling has been on-point from the start, however. Keita attempts an impressive 3.14 take-ons per-90, completing 54% of those (1.7). He’s not quite Moussa Dembélé but is a competent and quality dribbler able to glide by opponents. Pogba, meanwhile, attempts even more take-ons (3.41) and completes a whopping 62% of them (2.1). The Frenchman is masterful with the ball at his feet and defenders are often unable to keep up with his combination of quick feet and long strides.
Specialists 1-1 Pogba
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Passing vs. Henderson
Jordan Henderson often plays at the base of Liverpool’s midfield, either literally or figuratively. He’s often their main passing conduit, whether short or long. The Englishman’s ability to spread the ball wide and far has so often been critical in their fast forwards dominating.
Thus his passing numbers are predictably high. Henderson attempts a very healthy 86.72 passes per-90 and completes 76.93 of them at a 89% rate. A consummate safe pair of hands in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield. Meanwhile Pogba attempts less passes than Henderson completes (66.44) and only 84% of those find their target.
This can be explained by their different roles, as Pogba is higher up the field so is usually playing riskier passes into the final third in order to create goalscoring situations; the Frenchman has made 10.36 passes into the final third as opposed to Henderson’s 9.61. It’s also seen in their chances created. Whereas Henderson has created a respectable for a defensive midfielder 0.58 chances, Pogba has a very healthy 1.68 chances created per-90 and that’s despite playing three months for José Mourinho!
Specialists 2-2 Pogba
Whilst Milner is an all-around utility man by design, Georginio Wijnaldum is much like Pogba in that he can do a bit of everything. He’s not used in multiple roles like Milner, but in one specific one like Pogba.
So whilst he cannot be part of the specialists comparison, he should be mentioned. His stat-line comes close to Pogba. He attempts and wins less tackles but does so more efficiently at 62%. And both are similar when it comes to interceptions (0.47 vs. 0.54).
Wijnaldum completes 60% of his 1.31 take-ons, but that can’t touch Pogba who completes more (2.1) than Wijnaldum even attempts! When it comes to passing, Wijnaldum completes a genuinely impressive 92% of his 61.8 passes, but doesn’t quite create as many chances (1.41 vs. 1.68). He comes close, but ultimately he can’t match the breadth of Pogba’s quality.
Goal Impact vs. All of them
Here’s where Pogba really shines brighter than any Liverpool midfielder. The Frenchman has registered 8 assists all season, which is more than all the Liverpool midfielders combined. Fabinho has 2, Keita has 1 and hell we can even be generous and throw in James Milner’s 4; Pogba still has more. In fact Pogba has more assists than any Liverpool player does this season.
In terms of goals, Pogba has scored an impressive 11 times in the Premier League, a career best for him. In response the Liverpool midfield specialists have one goal, 6 if you include utility man Milner and Diet Pogba Wijnaldum. Just over half of the World Cup winner’s entire total. It’s clear that whilst Pogba’s balanced skill-set matches up well against all of Liverpool’s midfield specialists, when it comes to scoring and creating goals Manchester United’s fabulous Frenchman is in a class of his own.
Specialists 2-3 Pogba