After five Premier League games, Paul Pogba sits on seven assists. Granted, he picked up four of those in the season-opening demolition of Leeds United. With the four services, Pogba tied the record for most assists in one Premier League game. But, excluding that historic performance, his three helpers in the other four games would still put him tied atop the assists chart.
Goals will always be the most valuable commodity in soccer. Yet, as the rise of analytics continues, clubs, coaches and fans are understanding that assists are also important. The Frenchman’s early displays demonstrate his playmaking abilities.
The Premier League record for assists in a season is 20. Thierry Henry set the bar in the 2002/03 season before Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne matched him in 2019/20. At his current rate, Pogba would obliterate the existing record. He would snag over 50 assists. No, the midfielder will not reach that mammoth tally. Still, he put himself in a position to surpass De Bruyne and Henry for assists in one season.
Paul Pogba starts strong
Not many foresaw this level of assists from Pogba going into the 2021/22 season. In previous two seasons, Pogba amassed six.
Currently, the midfielder’s expected tally would more-than double the existing record. Premier League Hall of Famer Thierry Henry’s 20 assists came in 37 matches in the 2002/03 season to go along with 24 goals. When Kevin De Bruyne equaled the figure in the 2019-20 campaign, he contributed 13 goals of his own in 35 matches.
So far, Paul Pogba does not have any goals. And, frankly, it is unlikely he matches those goal outputs from his position. Henry played striker, De Bruyne serves as an outright attacking midfielder. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær employs Pogba in a holding role, wide on the left and in the attacking midfield. Essentially, he lacks a true position to call his own.
The most interesting thing about the 2018 World Cup winner’s campaign is that his expected assists total is one. Expected assists is a statistic that tracks the likelihood of a pass becoming an assist for a goal. This means that the Red Devils scoring from Pogba’s passes do not score from clear-cut opportunities.
Basically, assists are subjective. One great pass may not count as an assist, one simple pass could. Contrarily, goals are more definitive. The ball either crosses the goal line off a player’s foot or it does. Some feel that assists may be overvalued.
“Paul has always been a great passer, one of the best in European football, and he’s not got assists from his best passes this season,” Ole Gunnar Solskjær said in a press conference.
“I don’t pay attention to assists, it’s a social media thing.”
Perhaps the 2013 Golden Boy benefitted from an injury and adjustments for his lofted assist tally.
Marcus Rashford is still recovering from a shoulder surgery he underwent last month. Jadon Sancho needs time to adapt to his new surroundings after joining from Borussia Dortmund.
These circumstances provided Pogba the opportunity to play in an advanced role.
In Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the Best Young Player of the 2014 World Cup serves as a false winger on the left. There, Paul Pogba provides consistent key passes in and through the final third. When everyone returns to fitness, Pogba may lose this role. He will likely return to the deeper midfield to play in a double pivot role in central midfield alongside Fred or Scott McTominay. In that position, his freedom is limited. Unfortunately for him, results show his success in more advanced roles.
READ MORE: How to watch the Premier League on U.S. TV.
Even with Daniel James signing to Leeds, United’s front four is congested with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sancho’s signing. Forward Anthony Martial turned down a season-long loan to Lyon to fight for a place in the team. United brought back Jesse Lingard after a sensational loan move to West Ham last season. To maintain Pogba’s momentum, Solskjær will have to make some tough decisions to get the best out of his side.
Potential to break records
Paul Pogba’s rapid start not only provides potential to unseat Henry and De Bruyne. In fact, he could very well take on the record for Europe as a whole.
The Bundesliga and La Liga recently saw their single season assists marks shattered during the 2019-20 campaign. Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller and Barcelona legend Lionel Messi tallied 21 assists in league play each.
Interestingly, when you compare the seasons of Henry, De Bruyne, Muller and Messi when they reached the records, only Muller’s team won the league. Manchester United hopes Pogba can reach the mark, and it will be immortalized in a season where they win the league for the first time in nine years.
As we see early this season with United tied atop the Premier League table, Paul Pogba’s pinpoint passing produces points.
Author: Dan Adu-Gyamfi