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Pogba v Kante? Why the €100M man won't survive Chelsea gauntlet

COMMENT: For Paul Pogba, there's no escaping it. Monday night at the Bridge. He'll be judged. Pulled apart. Examined like no other game.

Not even his toughest times at Juventus, where he struggled with the burden of the club's coveted No10 shirt, will prepare him for Monday night at Chelsea.

This is it for the Manchester United midfielder. Up against N'Golo Kante. If he gets it wrong. If he flops. The comparisons will be brutal. Unforgiving. The apologists will argue they're different players. The scrutiny unfair. But they'll be drowned out.

It'll be argued Pogba invited this. He set himself up. And it's difficult to argue otherwise.

The €100 million man. The first footballer with his own emoji. The adidas promo films. We know anything and everything about Pogba. Almost every week, there's some sort of commercial operation being shoved down our throats.

Even today, 24 hours out from the FA Cup quarterfinal, we're learning he's jetting in an Italian chef to cook his spag just the way he likes it. Which, you could say, isn't so bad if it means he's avoiding being dragged away by friends from taunting restaurant patrons.

Yet, all this would be fine, if he was producing consistently for United. But it just hasn't happened - which is in stark contrast to Kante.

And this is why it'll be savage - vicious - if Pogba doesn't put it together on Monday.

There's no relationship with Twitter or Facebook for Kante. No big endorsement ads starring the Chelsea man. The only aspect of Kante's life we know is what he does on the pitch. And he does that very, very well.

Indeed, for any genuine English football fan, no matter who you support, we owe Kante a debt of thanks.

The energy. The relentless running. The competitiveness. The fair play. The tackling. The tackling. The TACKLING. He's brought the traditions of the English game not only back to the forefront, but actually has the cynics celebrating all the qualities that has made the Premier League the world's most popular competition.

And worrying for Pogba, if in his down time he is drawing a private comparison, is that Kante is actually getting better. Last season's pass accuracy of 86.5% in his own half and 78% in that of his opponents' has already leapt to 90% and 86.9% respectively. As a ball-winner, he stands alone. But now, under manager Antonio Conte, the stats suggest we're seeing the complete midfielder develop before us.

And this clearly has been no fluke. Conte suggested as much earlier this year when discussing his No7: “Kante is extraordinary. He brings a lot of quantity, ok, but what quality too. Even if he should improve in his build-up play. His first pass is always horizontal and he needs to make that vertical. I was just like him, so I do understand."

Throw in his humility and genuine modesty... and of course the neutral will be tuning in hoping Kante shows up Pogba on Monday night.

Pogba isn't Kante. And it is unfair to argue otherwise. But given Kante's progress this season, it could be in a matter of months we'll be adjusting that claim to 'Pogba is no Kante'.

Monday could shift the momentum. But Pogba - for this season at least - will have to do the extraordinary. He'll have to produce in a game that genuinely matters. And he'll have to overcome Kante in direct competition. The Chelsea man will be all over him like a rash. And when he loses possession - as he surely will - the glare will be red hot.

From Kante, we know what we'll get on Monday night. He'll tackle. Harass. Chase. He'll do all things that suddenly pundits are appreciating in a player. And he'll do it in every area on the pitch.

For Pogba, we don't know what to expect. Can his game come together? Will things fall for him? For the game's costliest footballer, it's all if's and but's.

And for a player lured by so many commercial commitments, such doubts are not good enough.

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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