Be careful what you wish for, doubters. Those within Manchester United’s massive band of global support who had been asking for Paul Pogba to be dropped might well be about to find out just what their side are capable of without him.
The midfielder’s withdrawal in the 48th minute of their 1-0 second-leg win over Rostov in the Europa League round of 16 now puts the Red Devils on high alert. A potentially lengthy period without their world-record signing could hardly have been worse timed.
While Sunday’s trip to Middlesbrough is their only game remaining before a two-week international break, they are already without the suspended Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading to the Riverside. The loss of one midfielder could maybe be absorbed with little adverse reaction, but the absence of their two most prolific players in the engine room and a second figurehead star after Zlatan means they really will be making ends meet at the weekend.
Jose Mourinho was moved to launch a passionate defence of Pogba in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday as claims continue that the Frenchman hasn’t justified his £89.5m outlay, and bearing in mind his admission after Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s recent hamstring injury that such a physical ailment takes more than a few days to recover from he will have no hope of putting the No.6 into action on Sunday.
Moreover, if Pogba’s injury is a significant one then the possibility of losing him for longer is barely worth thinking about. Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini will likely start against Boro by default, with Bastian Schweinsteiger a possible recall for substitute duty, but quite how United will look to cover for a longer absence is anyone’s guess.
With home league fixtures against West Brom and Everton immediately following the break – the first of which Herrera and Ibrahimovic will also sit out – there is then a trip to Sunderland to round off one busy week and begin another ahead of the return to Europa League action. Even without FA Cup dates to worry about now, every midweek is now accounted for. The last thing United need is a major injury setback.
They continue their Europa League odyssey despite a wholly forgettable showing against Rostov, with plenty of nerves on display until Juan Mata tapped home with 20 minutes to go to consolidate United’s away-goal advantage from the 1-1 first-leg draw a week ago.
Daley Blind also exited early, but it will be Pogba around whom the greatest concerns will linger in the coming days. United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League – whether by winning the Europa League or hunting down a top-four spot in the Premier League, may rest on his speedy recovery.