First impressions can often be misleading.
What felt like love, until it wasn't. The cable package you were sure was a good value until you got that first bill. The promise of the Great American Novel that turned out to be hackneyed and contrived. The American President who promised to Make Your Country Great Again and brought division and violence.
And Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić? Well, we will have to wait on that one, but the first signs were worryingly promising. Against West Ham United, in Manchester United’s first Premier League game of the season, Matić did all the work Pogba is too creative to want to do on a consistent basis, cleaning up behind him and generally providing a sense of positional awareness that United lacked last season, especially when Marouane Fellaini played next to Pogba.
“I think we [Pogba and Matić] play together very well,” Matić told United’s official website on Friday. “We help each other. I have to say he played good in attack and also helped a lot when we were defending. He always played next to me. We are there on the pitch to fight for each other. We will continue like this, and I’m happy to have him in the team.”
It’s interesting that Matić pointed out Pogba’s defensive contribution, because that isn’t something the Frenchman has often been praised for. Criticisms of Pogba’s defensive awareness seemed justified at times last season, particularly from set pieces.
It is illuminating, though, how quickly inserting a player like Matić into a football team can improve the perception of the players around him. Another complaint about Pogba last season, less fair than the barbs about his defensive game, surrounded the idea that a footballer costing £89 million should be able to perform without players bought specifically to help him out.
It’s a nonsense theory, of course, and the signing of Matić proves it. Mourinho knows that Pogba’s game is at its best when he is allowed to break forward without concern for what is going on behind him. The fourth goal against West Ham, when Pogba strode into an advanced midfield area before unleashing a precise shot past Joe Hart, is the kind of thing Mourinho must have envisaged when he bought Matić.
Initial impressions only. If Matić and Pogba dovetail against Swansea City on Saturday like they did against West Ham, perhaps United supporters will have cause to get giddier.
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