Gary Neville has noted that Manchester United desperately missed the influence of Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick in midfield against Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho’s men made an expansive start at Stamford Bridge but a dearth of impetus from midfield meant the hosts eventually took control and claimed a deserved 1-0 win.
Pogba has been sidelined with a hamstring problem since September but should return following the international break, while Carrick should be back to full fitness soon after being pictured going through some running exercises at Carrington last week.
And Neville, speaking on Sky Sports after the game, explained how the pair would have made an important difference against the champions.
“I think Pogba is a big miss because of his confidence and arrogance,” he said. “He takes the ball into tight areas, holds the ball, beats a man.”
“Michael Carrick, too – he delivers those passes up to strikers, to the side of defenders, and I think those two players would have made a big difference.”
They key to any successful midfield combination is diversity and United couldn’t offer that at Stamford Bridge, and haven’t been able to for over a month.
While N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas brought discipline, energy and craft respectively to Chelsea’s midfield core, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic looked stranded at times, weighed down by the numerical disadvantage and a general lack of guided composure around them.
Needless to say, Pogba’s return will be crucial when it comes to recalibrating United’s midfield. Somebody of his raw ability will improve any side, after all.
And Carrick, despite having only featured once this season, could serve as an important presence alongside Matic over the next few weeks. We often forget that the Serbian can inflict plenty of damage going forward, but the absence of somebody with Carrick’s poise and maturity has precluded him from joining attacks in recent times.
Supporters will just hope that the full restoration of United’s midfield options will kickstart their campaign after a difficult month that saw them lose ground on Manchester City.