Pogba: Man Utd will come back stronger from Europa League defeat

By Sports Desk May 28, 2021

Paul Pogba believes Manchester United will come back stronger following the disappointment of losing the Europa League final.

United were beaten 11-10 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out by Villarreal in Gdansk on Wednesday, goalkeeper David de Gea missing the crucial kick after the game had finished 1-1 after extra time.

The defeat means manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still waiting to claim his first trophy in the job.

Indeed, the Red Devils have not won silverware since triumphing in the same competition under Jose Mourinho in 2017.

For Pogba – who was substituted in the 116th minute, denying him the chance to take a penalty – the defeat was a disappointing way to finish the campaign, though the midfielder quickly switched his focus to the future.

"I needed some days to reflect after the match," Pogba wrote in a Twitter post to accompany a picture of the United squad gathered together.

"Of course, very upset not to win the final but we're a team that will look forward with our heads held high.

"Thank you to all of the fans for the support. We will come back stronger."

Pogba played in 42 games in the campaign for United, scoring six goals and providing the same number of assists as Solskjaer’s side finished second in the Premier League.

However, before he is back in action at club level, Pogba will be involved for France at Euro 2020.

Didier Deschamps' reigning world champions are in Group F for the round-robin stage, along with Germany, Hungary and Portugal, who denied Les Bleus in the Euro 2016 final in Paris courtesy of an extra-time winner.

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    But while their domination of Italy's top division only really ended last season when Inter brought the Bianconeri's nine-year subjugation of Serie A to a halt, their current situation would make you think it was far longer since they were a challenger.

    When the season resumes after this international break, Juve will go into their next fixture at least 11 points off the top, down in fifth. For years their recruitment has been muddled and misguided, with Aaron Ramsey's fringe squad status the perfect embodiment of that.

    But Dusan Vlahovic's arrival shows there is life in the Old Lady yet, and given the striker's rise to prominence, this move is also potentially massive for Serie A in general.

    Fiorentina hadn't been shy about their desire to cash in on the Serbian, who turned 22 on Friday. They have been very public about how they simply could not afford to lose out on a transfer fee, a situation that was quickly threatening to become a real issue given his contract was due to expire in 2023.

    Pretty much all of Europe's biggest clubs were linked with Vlahovic at some point over the past 12 months, and for a while most people's money would have been on him moving to England.

    "Oh, another emerging talent scurrying off to chase the big bucks of the Premier League, how predictable," many 'calcio' fans were presumably muttering to themselves as… *checks notes*… Arsenal and Tottenham circled.

    As the story reportedly went, Vlahovic's agent didn't seriously consider those two in the end. Whether it might have been a different story for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Chelsea is unclear, but a coup it remains for Juve.

    Vlahovic's impact on Italian football, particularly over the past 18 months, has been significant. Some have suggested he's Serie A's answer to Erling Haaland – perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there's a reason Juve are investing in a guy who in 2021, let's not forget, became only the second player in the past 60 years to net 33 Serie A goals over a single calendar year.

    Juve's attraction to him makes absolute sense when you consider a metric as reductive – yet, crucial – as goals. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit last year, the Bianconeri were left with a gaping maw in terms of finishing ability. The faith placed in Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack was as optimistic as it was naive, as the Spaniard has five in 22 Serie A games.

    Vlahovic should, in theory, provide them with a number nine who is dedicated to goals. As Fiorentina's focal point this term, he has recorded 87 shots (second-most among Serie A players) and scored 15 non-penalty goals across all competitions.

    Some might point to the fact those 15 strikes are a considerable increase on his non-penalty xG (expected goals) of 10.2, and there's obviously a chance he won't prove to be quite so clinical for Juve, but it clearly shows they are buying a player brimming with belief.

    Similarly, being surrounded by better players in Turin may mean Vlahovic doesn't have to try as many low-xG shots. A quick look at his shot map in Serie A this season shows a significant variation in goal distances, which obviously has an impact on his xG per shot, which is 0.11 (excluding penalties).

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    That speaks to Vlahovic's link-up play and his effectiveness at knitting attacks together in the final third, a skill that is not to every striker's liking. Yet he manages to fulfil this function without it being to the detriment of his goals output.

    At Juve, assuming he links up in attack with Dybala, there may be less need for him to get as involved and that could potentially be how he improves his record of getting into higher xG situations.

    It's fair to assume Juve would see that pay dividends on the goals front, given he already only averages 2.2 touches per shot inside the box – that's only fractionally more than Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Haaland (all 2.0), showing how he's more of an instinctive finisher than the likes of Mohamed Salah (3.1) and Kylian Mbappe (3.3), who are more about dribbling and beating defenders.

    The fact is, Vlahovic still has elements to his game that could still improve, yet he's already performing at a high level. He may be young, but Juve have signed a player who can go straight into the team, which will presumably start being built around him.

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    At the very least, it's a genuine boost for Serie A to keep arguably its finest young player in the league despite the Premier League waving its vast sums in his direction.

    With Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone, Vlahovic is surely primed to be Serie A's new poster boy.

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    UEFA confirmed the sanction in a statement on Friday, with Walker's actions described as an "assault".

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    Walker became the second-oldest Englishman to be sent off in a Champions League game, after Paul Scholes for Manchester United against Roma in April 2007 (32 years, 139 days).


     

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