Where does Pogba rank among the Premier League’s best?

Last week we compared Pogba to some of the best midfielders from around the world. This time we’ll look at how he stacks up against some rivals-to-be in the Premier League.

If you missed the last post you can find it here. There was lots of discussion around the interwebs about where Pogba fits into the “best midfielders in the world” discussion, so we compared him to Luka Modric, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic, and his former midfield partner Claudio Marchisio using data from both Squawka.com and WhoScored.com, and concluded that he’s firmly in that top tier of 2-way midfielders. Now we’re going to see how he stacks up in the Premier League.

Last week, I ranked the players’ Squawka stats against each other and took an average, and then looked at their statistical rankings according to WhoScored, and took an average. It was this whole production, and while I thought it was informative and accomplished what I was going for, it over-complicated things. With that in mind, I’m going to try a much simpler approach this week. This time I’m just going to look at a variety of offensive and defensive stats on WhoScored, and simply see where Pogba’s numbers would rank in the Prem. I’ll also filter the rankings so that they only include central midfielders with at least 20 league appearances. Easy enough right?

Let’s start with some attacking statistics. Pogba led central mids in Serie A with an aggressive 3.7 shots/90. Only one other player, Josep Ilicic, had over 3, and it looks like the majority of his appearances were in an attacking midfield or even a forward role. That 3.7 matches up favorably in England, as well. The Prem only saw 5 CM’s take more than 2 shots per 90, with Yaya Toure’s league-leading 3.0 still comfortably behind Pogba, so you can see that our boy likes to get forward and have a go.

Those shots resulted in goals at high rate as well, with Pogba scoring 0.3 goals/90 last year. That had him tied for 2nd in Serie A with his replacement Miralem Pjanic, but would’ve been joint highest in the Premier League, though Sigurdsson actually would’ve edged him in total goals 9-8. Either way, 0.3 goals per 90 is a strong contribution from a midfielder, and you’d only expect that to improve as his game matures under Mourinho.

His 1.6 key passes/90 is a bit lower than expected, ranking 13th among qualifying Serie A mids, but looks more favorable in the Prem where it would’ve placed 7th. Even more favorable is Pogba’s Serie A-leading 0.4 assists/90, which would’ve been comfortably 2nd in England behind Ozil’s 0.6 and ahead of a whole herd of folks at 0.2.

Adding goals and assists together, we can see that Pogba is responsible for 0.7 goals per 90, which is 2nd behind only Ozil. For perspective, this is 0.2 higher than anyone on United last year, with Wayne Rooney and Tony Martial both coming in at 0.5.

The last attacking area we’ll look at is also the area where Pogba will arguably make the biggest impact. He attempted 5 dribbling take ons per 90, succeeding on 3 of them. 3 successful take ons was comfortably the best number in Serie A last year and would’ve been 3rd in the Prem, behind only Mousa Dembele’s 3.4 and Ross Barkley’s 3.3. This explosiveness is something that’s been sorely lacking in United’s midfield lately, and simply having Pogba on the pitch is going to change our entire attacking dynamic.

Now let’s look at some defensive numbers.

Pogba averaged 2.3 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per 90, both of which are in the bottom half of both Serie A and the Prem. However, he was only dribbled past 0.7 times per 90, which was 5th in Italy and would’ve been 2nd in England behind only Mousa Dembele. This confirms the idea that Pogba maybe doesn’t get stuck in in a way that would make Jamie Carragher proud, but it also shows that he’s pretty effective on those occasions when he does go in for a tackle. The lack of interceptions is a little more concerning, but I think it speaks more to his role in the team (was often partnered with Khedira and/or Marchisio, who are both more defensively oriented) than it does to any lack of ability or effort. Besides, as young as he is and as well as he reads the game offensively, you would only expect him to continue to improve in that regard.

Pogba also both draws and concedes fouls at a high rate, which speaks to his physicality and aggression. His 1.8 fouls drawn/90 was only good for 21st in Serie A but would’ve been 3rd in the Prem, while his 2.6 fouls/90 would’ve actually led the league. While I think this is a case where fouls are just more prevalent in Italy, it’ll still be interesting to watch how he adjusts in the coming season.

Finally, let’s just look at overall player rating. WhoScored captures and analyzes all that data with that single metric in mind, may as well take advantage right? Pogba clocked in with a Serie A leading 7.81 last season. This would’ve been the 2nd best overall rating in the Prem behind Mahrez’s 7.84, and would’ve been the top rating among qualifying midfielders.

Overall, you can make a very strong case that Paul Pogba will be the best 2-way midfielder in the league from the moment he walks on the pitch. He’s already the world standard for attacking from central midfield, and looks to be an above average defender, as well. Considering that along with his age, creativity, and ambition and there’s really nobody else I’d rather have in world football.

Thinking about it within the context of United and adjusting to life in the Premier League, you’d have to think his physicality and play style will lend themselves perfectly to the high intensity, transition-oriented game that’s played in England. Pogba is at his best when he picks the ball up near midfield and just starts galloping, and at United, he’ll probably be sat next to someone like Schneiderlin or Carrick who will shield the back 4 and leave him free to roam. His penchant for attempting the spectacular should come in handy against teams that park the bus, as well. Add in his larger-than-life personality and it really does seem like a match made in heaven.

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