What are Manchester United getting in Paul Pogba?

We know the 23-year Frenchman is a phenomenal talent, but where does he stack up against the world’s best?

With Manchester United’s signing of Paul Pogba thought to be completed in the next 48 hours (or the next 48 after that), it’s high time to dive in and take a look at how he stacks up statistically against the world’s best midfielders. To do this we’re going to look at data from both Squawka.com and WhoScored.com. Both of these sites provide mountains of information, but both seem to analyze that information slightly differently, so looking at both will give us the best overall picture of where Paul stands.

SQUAWKA

We’ll start with Squawka because the UI makes it a bit easier to directly compare players. I’m sure you’re all familiar with their comparison matrix, which allows you to choose as many stats as you want and compare them between up to 5 players. The names I see brought up most often in these “who’s the best 2-way midfielder” discussions seem to inevitably be Luka Modric, Arturo Vidal, and Ivan Rakitic, so those are the 3 that I included with the prodigal son. I also threw in Pogba’s teammate Claudio Marchisio, just to see if I could quiet the pseudo-intellectual Juve fans who claim (now that it looks like he’s leaving, of course) that Pogba wasn’t even their best midfielder. Here’s the full matrix:

Pogba v World SQUAWKA

At first glance, it actually doesn’t look too flattering for our boy. The top line alone almost made me want to stop then and there. However, if you dig a bit deeper it starts to look a bit better for Paul.

First, I think I don’t think counting stats are the best for accurately measuring someone’s impact in possession, and I suspect that the passes/90 and pass % stats get too much weight in the Possession Score. I also don’t think that it factors in assists and key passes, even in such a way that you can get an idea of the how risky on average each players passes are, so Pogba is probably unfairly punished for not playing as many sideways/backwards passes as the others. This not only affects his low Possession Score, but his low Total Score as well.

Second, that low Total Score. Though Pogba’s may be a bit behind the others, he actually is very well represented in almost every other statistic. His Attack Score in particular is extremely impressive, and were it not for Vidal’s 15.23 his 28.14 would’ve lapped the field. Also, his 3.4 shots/90 and 3 successful take ons/90 are both the best in show by a wide margin, and support the idea that he’s playing a much more aggressive style than his counterparts (which again can help explain the lower pass %). This is something that’s been sorely missing in United’s midfield as of late, and I think his willingness to take players on and simply try things is going to have a galvanizing effect on the rest of the squad.

Finally, though his Total Score may only rank 4th among these guys, if you rank each player 1 through 5 in every category and calculate the average he moves up to third, and is actually neck and neck with Modric in 2nd. Here’s the spreadsheet I made for that calculation:

Squawka ranks

You can also see that Pogba ranks 1st in 5 of the 17 categories, 2nd behind only Vidal’s 6, and well ahead of Modric (3), Marchisio (2), and Rakitic (1).

WhoScored

Now comes the fun part. WhoScored doesn’t try to separate Attack, Defense, and Possession into three separate categories to calculate a Total Score, instead choosing to use every stat that they capture to calculate an all-encompassing Player Rating, and it paints a much more flattering picture of our boy. The absence of a comparison matrix makes it a bit harder to make direct comparisons, but it does allow us to see where each player ranks within their own league, and that’s the route that I took for this section. I’ve again looked at a variety of offensive and defensive stats for each player, but this time I used the average of their league ranks in each category to try to figure out who’s the best. I actually like this method better because in theory it should help account for any differences in play style between leagues. As you’ll see in the table, each stat is again taken on a per 90 basis, but for the league rankings I limited it to midfielders with at least 20 league appearances to exclude players who maybe appeared once and just played the best 90 minutes of their life. Here’s the full table:

Pogba v World WhoScored

First thing of note here is that Pogba’s 7.81 Player Rating for the season was the best in Serie A, and is almost a half point higher than Vidal’s 2nd place 7.4 for best in the group. I’m guessing this is because WhoScored does not weigh the total # of passes attempted quite as heavily as Squawka, and therefore Pogba is not punished as much for attempting less than the others.

Second thing of note is that while his offensive average is again the best (he leads the group in shots, assists, and dribbles, and is second in both goals and aerial duels won), his defensive average is very impressive, as well. His average rank of 43.5 is just off the pace set by Marchisio and Vidal (37.8 and 37.5 respectively), and is well ahead of both Modric (63) and Rakitic (57.8). I was particularly surprised by his 0.7 times dribbled past/90, which suggests that while he may not attempt quite as many tackles as his contemporaries, he’s more successful than they are when he does.

Finally, his overall average rank of 27.2 is the best of the bunch, just narrowly edging Vidal’s 27.8 but well ahead of the rest of the pack, suggesting that Pogba is arguably the most complete player of the group. He simply doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, and even his biggest (pass %) seems relatively minor when compared to what you see with some of the others.

In conclusion, these comparisons support much of what we already thought about Paul Pogba: he’s an extremely talented 2-way midfielder who’s definitely earned a place in the conversation for World’s Best. Statistics are never going to be a perfect way to measure a player’s impact, especially in a dynamic sport like soccer, but it’s hard not to look at these and surmise that he’s firmly in a 3-man top tier along with Luka Modric and Arturo Vidal.

However, I think when you consider what he’ll bring to our team things get even more exciting. Every signing we’ve made this summer has been with the idea of getting back to the swashbuckling attacking side that swaggered it’s way to 13 Premier League titles over the past few decades, and Pogba fits right in with that theme. He may not be the consistent, possession-cycling metronome that Scholes was or Modric is, but his creativity and willingness to attempt the spectacular will be like a godsend for a club that’s been starved of it for the past few years.

That’s the player were getting, lads. Let’s make sure we cherish him this time.

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