Paul Pogba will be hoping he can build on last week’s standout start to the Premier League season, when Manchester United travel to Southampton on Sunday.
Remarkably, the French star can match his combined assist total of five for the whole of the last Premier League season, should he turn provider again this week for one of his United teammates.
In the 5-1 victory over Leeds, the 28-year-old played a decisive role in goals for Mason Greenwood, Fred and two of Bruno Fernandes’ trio of strikes. And there’s a good chance he could be heavily involved in the goals again this weekend.
This is because not only do Southampton represent the ideal opponent for him to shine, but he’ll also be boosted by playing alongside United’s new dangerous attacker Jadon Sancho.
We’ve not yet seen these two superstars combine, however that looks set to change this weekend, which could spell big trouble for the hosts.
Under manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, Southampton tend to be an aggressive side who like to press and engage with their opponents high up the pitch. Last season, their PPDA average – a metric used to measure the aggressiveness of a press high up the pitch – was the fifth most aggressive in the league. Whilst in the season before it ranked first.
This can prove problematic for lesser technically gifted teams who can get caught out in dangerous areas close to their own goal. However, United’s defenders and midfielders are comfortable playing out and through such structures, meaning it shouldn’t cause them too many issues.
It certainly hasn’t in recent head-to-head clashes – United are undefeated against Southampton since Hasenhüttl’s appointment.
Not only should United do a good job of bypassing Southampton pressure, but they’ll also be able to profit from the spaces the South Coast side leave in behind when pushing high up the pitch, and this should be when Pogba will come alive.
As we were reminded last week, his distribution is exquisite and he’s capable of firing long pin-point passes into spaces for players such as Greenwood and Sancho to drive into. When in these positions, these young United forwards are ruthless, burning away from defenders and towards the penalty box where they’ll so often punish the opposition.
More goal contributions this weekend could lay the foundations for perhaps Pogba’s best United season yet.
That in turn could create an environment in which both the club and player feel like it’s the right time to finally extend his current United contract which is due to expire next summer. But if not, he’ll at least sign off with a memorable campaign that could quite possibly lead to a haul of silverware for the Reds.