Cape Town – Midfielder Paul Pogba will be like a “new world-class signing” when he returns for Manchester United, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
After an uncomfortable summer of speculation following the World Cup winner’s admission that he would like to leave, the campaign could not have gone much worse for the 26-year-old.
Injured against Southampton at the end of August, Pogba was able to return in late September against Rochdale and Arsenal only for an ankle issue to lie him low ever since.
The France international this week finished up a period of rehabilitation in Miami, where the midfielder was seen playing basketball with Heat star Jimmy Butler without his ankle seemingly proving problematic.
That video naturally raised questions and a report in Spain even suggested the wantaway midfielder was fit and refusing to play for United, but Solskjaer defended the former world-record signing.
“Every player is allowed to be injured when he’s injured and Paul is working hard to get back,” the United boss said.
“No one can doubt his professionalism, his willingness or his desire to play football.
“He’s one of the best midfielders in the world and it’ll be like signing a new player before the transfer window opens.
“And, of course, we’ve missed him when he’s been away. I think some of the players – Scotty [Scott McTominay] and Fred – have taken up that challenge and have done well but of course, it’s a boost for us when he comes back.”
Pogba is now back in Manchester but will not feature against Aston Villa, when McTominay could return from an ankle injury of his own.
But there appears a chance that the 26-year-old could make his long-awaited return on Wednesday against Tottenham, who are now managed by Jose Mourinho – the former United manager that clashed so spectacularly with the Frenchman.
“He’s stepping up his recovery and let’s see how soon he’ll be match-fit and available,” Solskjaer said.
“Of course, that’s going to be a new signing for us.
“He’s not really been able to play for us so when we get him back it’ll be like a new world-class signing, a new world-class midfielder, so of course we want him back as soon as possible.”
Asked if he would be back to face Villa, he said: “Sunday, no. I can’t say now (about Tottenham), because I’ve not been home and seen him so hopefully…
“Let’s see where he’s at when he comes back and starts training with us.”
Solskjaer cannot wait to call upon Pogba’s adaptability again as United look to kickstart their top-four tilt boosted by players returning to fitness.
Jesse Lingard is among those players and the Norwegian says he is “coming back to his best”, with the stand-in captain opening the scoring as their Europa League dead rubber at Astana eventually ended in a 2-1 loss.
The midfielder was among only four non-teenagers that travelled to Kazakhstan, where Luke Shaw provided an assist and completed the full 90 minutes on his first appearance since getting injured in August – a period in which talented teenager Brandon Williams has pushed himself to the fore at left-back.
“I think the performances of Brandon have been a big, big plus – not just for him and me, but for Ethan (Laird) today, who’s played with Brandon through the years,” Solskjaer said of the right-back, who was among six debutants in Kazakhstan.
“So, for me, it’s also a big boost for Ethan because we’ve got many, many full-backs, loads of them who compete.
“I’ve been very pleased with Brandon, he scored a great goal, so let’s see where they’re at. Great to have Luke through 90 minutes today and let’s see what we do for Sunday.”
United could well have been returning home victorious had Tahith Chong not missed an open goal moments before Astana levelled.
The 19-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and Solskjaer believes they have made a fair offer to extend his deal.
Meanwhile, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reckons there are many positives to take from his young team’s defeat at Astana on Thursday.
The 6 000-mile round trip to face Astana is the furthest the Red Devils have ever travelled for a continental match, just as they have never had to contend with the kind of cold experienced around Nur-Sultan.
It was far warmer inside the Astana Arena due to the roof under which United’s young side started the Europa League tie brightly, with stand-in captain Jesse Lingard opening the scoring with a fizzing low finish.
But already eliminated and previously pointless Astana grew into the Group L encounter, with Dmitri Shomko’s strike and an own goal from United debutant Di’Shon Bernard sealing a surprise 2-1 win for the hosts.
“Definitely (there are positives),” manager Solskjaer said.
“Of course, we’re disappointed with the end result but I thought we started the game fantastically, the boys took control of the game, scored a fantastic goal.
“The response after they scored two was also good. Of course, I’m disappointed with that 10-minute spell, you could feel pressure was coming. We couldn’t get on the ball as we did.
“But some fantastic performances by the three young lads who made their debuts, all were excellent. I think some of these (young players I brought to Kazakhstan) might benefit from going out on loan because they need men’s football and today, they got the taste of it, some of them. – Sport24