With a comfortable lead established and a derby date on the horizon, Paul Pogba’s reckless lunge on Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin was misguided to say the least.
The Manchester United midfielder knew what was at stake and had no need to dive into a studs-up challenge which always ran the risk of him being shown a straight red card.
That is precisely what did happen at Emirates Stadium and while his dismissal had little impact on a 3-1 victory over the Gunners, Pogba will now be forced to sit out a crunch clash with Manchester City.
The France international will once again be restricted to a spectator role at Old Trafford on Sunday, having already missed 12 games this season through injury.
Will he be a big miss, though, or can United counter his absence and collect a positive result against the Premier League leaders?
With the help of Opta data, here is how Jose Mourinho’s side have fared with and without their £89 million midfielder since his return from Juventus in the summer of 2016.
OVERALL RECORD IN ALL COMPETITIONS
|1.7||Avg Goals For||2|
|0.7||Avg Goals Against||0.6|
|73.4||Pass Acc Final 1/3||71.6|
United’s win percentage is actually greater when Pogba is unavailable for selection, while they also average more goals when the 24-year-old is absent and concede slightly fewer.
It is, however, clear that his presence in the middle of the park makes the Red Devils much more of a threat going forward.
With somebody of his ilk at the heart of the team, Mourinho’s men are more adventurous and prepared to get onto the front foot.
They see more of the ball when Pogba is around, with his qualities helping to both win it back and keep it moving, while their passing accuracy in the final third – where it really matters – also improves noticeably when a key creative cog is present.
To also fire in considerably more shots per game helps to give United a better chance of emerging victorious with Pogba pulling the strings, while they also put in more crosses and win more free-kicks – giving them more opportunities to load the box and trouble opposition defences.
2017-18 RECORD IN ALL COMPETITIONS
|2.5||Avg Goals For||2|
|0.8||Avg Goals Against||0.4|
|73.1||Pass Acc Final 1/3||69.6|
As previously mentioned, Pogba has seen his involvement in the current campaign severely curtailed by injury.
A hamstring problem picked up in a Champions League meeting with Basel on September 12 kept him sidelined for two months, with a return to action made against Newcastle on November 18.
Pogba had been in fine form prior to being laid low, with his efforts as United opened the season with three straight victories and as many clean sheets earning him the club’s Player of the Month award for August.
There were times when the Red Devils looked a little lost without him, particularly in big games where Mourinho faced accusations of ‘parking the bus’ as his team struggled to find their attacking spark.
United have, however, enjoyed the exact same record without Pogba as they have with him (including possession), which suggests that they have found a way of countering his absence and getting the job done.
Once again, though, the Red Devils are more of a threat when powered by a French engine, averaging more goals, shots and crosses when their No. 6 is in the side.
HOW WILL THEY FARE AGAINST CITY?
Pogba’s impending absence has provoked lively debate, with plenty of people trying to second guess what Mourinho will do.
Former United star Gary Neville is among those to have aired an opinion, telling Sky Sports: "I was trying to think myself what Jose will be thinking. Do you play split strikers with Martial and Lukaku? City bring their full-backs in narrow while two centre-backs push up the pitch, [so United could] just leave two strikers stretched wide and you play three central midfielders and five at the back, and say to City that's what we'll do, trust that the front two will get into those areas."
That does appear to be the general consensus, that United will look to pack the midfield and contain City’s abundance of attacking riches through the introduction of a more dogged performer such as Ander Herrera.
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Mourinho has shown down the years that he is a master of grinding out results and the Red Devils will not care how they take something from City on Sunday, just as long as they do.
Clearly Pogba’s suspension means that they will be missing a link between midfield and attack, someone to break the lines and cause Pep Guardiola’s troops to retreat, but derby dates are rarely free-flowing spectacles and being forced into a slight tactical rethink may actually be no bad thing.