Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba revealed his relief as preventing local rivals Manchester City from sealing the English Premier League soccer title on Saturday, claiming watching City celebrate would have been “like a death” for United fans.
Pogba shrugged off a turbulent season and speculation over his future by scoring twice in as many minutes just after halftime to spearhead a stunning United comeback that was completed by Chris Smalling 21 minutes from time.
Victory for City would have seen Pep Guardiola’s men crowned as champions and take a United record in the process by winning the title with six games to spare.
“If they won they are champions, for all the fans it would be like death,” said the Frenchman.
“To lose against City and to see them celebrate, I couldn’t let that happen. At half-time in the dressing room we said we have nothing to lose.”
Barring an incredible collapse, City will still win the league in the coming weeks as they hold a 13-point lead over second-placed United.
However, Pogba issued a rallying cry for United to win back the battle for supremacy in Manchester next season.
“After a second half like this, we have to do that all the time. If we did we would be up there with City, and maybe even in front.”
Guardiola added more spice to an already hotly-anticipated clash when he claimed on Friday he had been offered the chance to buy Pogba two months ago by the player’s agent Mino Raiola.
Pogba has often been dropped by United manager Jose Mourinho for the biggest games this season, despite costing the club a then world record £89 million when he returned to United from Juventus in 2016.
However, restored in his favourite position on the left of a midfield three, Pogba showed why he was once one of the most in-demand players in the world.
“With City they love to attack, they don’t like to defend, so I had to get more in the box. I knew I had Nemanja Matic behind me and Ander Herrera with me.”
Mourinho has been stinging in his criticism of Pogba at times during the campaign, but hailed his contribution to a famous victory.
“Two goals from a midfield player in a big match like this one stays in the memory of the people, especially for the fans,” said Mourinho.
“He needs that confidence because he knows, I know, everybody knows he had some performances not at the level we expect from Paul. But he is improving.”
Meanwhile, Manchester City have to shrug off the body blow of letting a two-goal lead and the chance to win the Premier League title against bitter rivals Manchester United slip to raise themselves for a Champions League rescue mission against Liverpool tomorrow.
Victory against United would have seen City crowned champions of England for the fifth time, and they looked well on course to do so in the sweetest style in Saturday’s Manchester derby as captain Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan propelled them into a richly deserved two-goal halftime lead.
However, City’s chances of landing a first ever Champions League crown were likely dealt a fatal blow when they conceded three times in 19 minutes first-half minutes to a rampant Liverpool at Anfield in the first leg last week.
And they were even more porous as United fought back to turn the game around in a 16-minute spell just after half-time as a Pogba double and Chris Smalling’s winner handed United a famous win.
“Congratulations to United. Now we will try, if we are brave enough, to stand up again and focus on Tuesday,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.
With City still boasting a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League despite their first home league defeat of the season, Guardiola showed his priorities lay with the Champions League before kick-off.
Kevin de Bruyne, City’s leading candidate for player of the year awards, was left on the bench alongside strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
However, even their firepower will count for nothing if City defend as they have in losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.
And Guardiola admitted the way his side are built to play on the front foot could leave them exposed to an away goal that will almost certainly seal Liverpool’s place in the last four.
“Today United didn’t shoot one time in the first half. Second half they arrive twice and score two goals.
“It is tough sometimes mentally. We are a young team and a team to create sometimes, not to defend.”
In a recurring theme of his near two-year reign in charge of City, Guardiola also lamented his side’s inability to take their chances at the other end as Raheem Sterling missed two glorious opportunities to extend City’s lead with the score at 2-0.
However, inspired by Barcelona’s remarkable comeback from a 4-0 first-leg deficit to Paris Saint-Germain, Guardiola – a Champions League winner as both a player and a coach at Barcelona – insisted that a remarkable comeback is possible if City are clinical on the night.
“In football anything can happen. It is the first time we lose two games in a row, first time in the season it has happened and now we have to recover, try again, come back to basics and win games,” added Guardiola.
“I tell them we are going to try guys. I was a football player, I know how they feel and how uncomfortable a situation it is. Like all the season I like to be with them and nothing else.” – AFP