“The France team is a breath of fresh air. It’s not the same as with the club, the group is exceptional, it’s magic.”
Paul Pogba’s relationship with Manchester United supporters is arguably at an all-time low and his latest comments while on international duty with France will serve to only make matters worse.
Some may sympathise with the World Cup winner. A once Premier League record signing, Pogba has been forced to settle for a bit-part role under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season. While he may enjoy playing with his French teammates more, he has done little to convince at club level that suggest he is worthy of a starting spot ahead of the in-form Scott McTominay and Fred.
United fans were optimistic that Pogba could stay at the club at the end of last season after the club secured a third-placed finish, spearheaded by January signing Bruno Fernandes.
In August, his agent – Mino Raiola – confirmed that the midfielder was happy at the club and expected talks to begin on a new contract soon. United’s decision to trigger the one-year extension clause in Pogba’s current deal could be a sign that those talks won’t be taking place any time soon.
It seems inevitable that Pogba will leave next summer, be that to Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus or Real Madrid. United are well stocked in the midfield department but another central midfielder should be on the agenda if Pogba does depart.
Nemanja Matic has enjoyed a resurgence in the first-team in recent months but is approaching the twilight of his career. Both Fred and McTominay have impressed but perform better in bursts rather than maintain their consistency over the course of a campaign.
United will be presented with an opportunity to scout a potential Pogba replacement during next month’s Champions League clash against RB Leipzig. The Reds travel to Germany on December 12 for their second clash against the Bundesliga side following a 5-0 drubbing at Old Trafford, a game where Julian Nagelsmann sorely missed his midfield general Konrad Laimer.
The 23-year-old is a graduate of Red Bull Salzburg’s famed youth academy and was identified by sister club Salzburg in 2017 as a player who could make the step up in competition. Since then, Laimer has blossomed into a key player under one of Europe’s most exciting young managers.
Laimer excels in a two-man midfield pivot, a system favoured by Solskjaer to bring the best out of Bruno Fernandes in an attacking midfield role. The Austrian international is key to Nagelsmann’s high pressing system in Germany, averaging 11.23 defensive duels per 90 minutes, more than any other United midfielder.
Leicester dynamo Wilfred Ndidi and West Ham anchor man Declan Rice have both been mooted as potential targets for United but Laimer’s defensive statistics eclipses both Premier League stars. Laimer has averaged 9.29 recoveries per 90 minutes for Leipzig, significantly more than any other United midfielder and only bettered by Ndidi.
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Manchester City players will resume their Premier League campaign this weekend with a difficult trip to London to play Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho’s side are in second place just a point behind leaders Leicester, and Harry Kane has been in scintillating form them.
City have been injury-ravaged so far this season, so Pep Guardiola will be hoping that as many of his squad as possible will return from international duty unscathed and ready to play.
We’ll be bringing you all the build-up and team news all the way through to kick-off on Saturday evening.
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Thanks to Leipzig’s attacking system, Laimer contributes in the final third too, averaging more successful attacking actions per 90 minutes than any other United central midfielder. He is comfortable on the ball and able to bring the team up the field, averaging 2.94 dribbles per 90 and 1.73 progressive runs per 90 – a total only bettered by Matic.
The 23-year-old’s ability in possession allows him to quickly escape dangerous situations and open up space for his teammates, averaging 7.22 offensive duels per 90 at a success rate of 43 per cent; a total higher than Pogba himself.
Leipzig will be out for revenge in December and Laimer’s return will be a welcome boost. Not only do United coaches need to pay the Austrian close attention but their scouts too.