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Prancing Pogba symbolises Man Utd revival

London (AFP) – After an unsteady start to his second Manchester United career, Paul Pogba has returned to the level that convinced the club to make him the world’s most expensive footballer.

Brought back to Old Trafford from Juventus in an £89.3 million ($108.9 million, 102.4 million euros) deal, the 23-year-old was initially derided for some less than stellar performances.

But he has looked close to his loose-limbed best in recent weeks and approaches Sunday’s showdown with United’s eternal rivals Liverpool as one of the Premier League’s in-form players.

“I do not expect Pogba to do anything against Liverpool other than play the way he has been playing for several weeks now — being confident and assertive on the ball and getting high up the pitch to hurt teams,” ex-Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy told the BBC.

“By doing precisely that, he has quite quickly become hugely important for United and he is now playing with a strut and a swagger, showing us what he is capable of.”

There were glimpses of Pogba’s gifts during the season’s early weeks — a first United goal against Leicester City, a sweet 20-yard strike as part of a Europa League brace against Fenerbahce.

But in United’s last 10 league games he has truly hit his stride, scoring three goals and supplying three assists as Jose Mourinho’s side have homed in on the Champions League places.

The France midfielder scored and set up a late goal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace last month and headed in an 86th-minute winner in a 2-1 defeat of Middlesbrough on New Year’s Eve.

United’s most recent outing, a 2-0 League Cup semi-final first-leg win over Hull City, yielded another gilded Pogba moment in the shape of a glorious, raking pass to Wayne Rooney, who shot wide.

Pogba and Ibrahimovic, his fellow headline signing, quickly struck up a rapport, two cocksure showmen helping to banish memories of the drab football of the Louis van Gaal era.

Statistics show passes between the pair represent United’s most common passing combination and they have created more shooting opportunities for each other than any other Premier League duo.

– Calming Carrick –

“He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve played with. He’s a joker,” Pogba said of Ibrahimovic, 12 years his senior, in a BBC interview.

“But on the pitch he’s a winner. He has big experience, big character and he pushes you to (do) your best.

“He always encourages you and gives you advice. You need that in the team, a leader on the pitch.”

Pogba has hailed Mourinho for allowing him to feel “free” on the pitch and it was in the United manager’s reorganisation of his midfield that the seeds of the Frenchman’s fine form were sown.

Pogba started the campaign alongside Marouane Fellaini in a two-man midfield partnership, but with neither player a true holding midfielder, it only served to stifle his creative instincts.

Since Michael Carrick came into the team it has been a different story, with the 35-year-old’s calm organising allowing Pogba and Ander Herrera to attack with the handbrake off.

United have won six and drawn two of the eight league games Carrick has started and according to the BBC, their win percentage leaps from 41.7 percent to 75 percent when he, Pogba and Herrera all play.

Ever the trailblazer, Pogba claimed a new milestone on Friday when he became the first footballer to have his own ’emoji’ symbol on Twitter.

His most pressing goal is to get United back into the top four, but he has not given up hope of whittling down the 10-point gap that currently separates his side from leaders Chelsea.

“You have to believe,” said Pogba, whose side have won nine successive games in all competitions.

“I know Chelsea are at the top, but this is the Premier League. You never know what is going to happen. Inside I feel we can still win the league.”

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