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Paul Pogba powers United hopes but Jose Mourinho left trailing Pep, City

It's the half way point in the season and time to take stock of the season so far at Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho's men have been graded and we've picked a star man, flop, key question and prediction for the rest of the season. 

Grade: B

Manchester United have had a good start to the season. It just happens they are competing against a Manchester City team who have not yet given them a glimmer of hope in the title race.

The 2-1 derby defeat at Old Trafford was disappointing -- as much for the way Mourinho set up as the result. But United still look like the team most likely to stop City winning the Premier League, even if the gap is a yawning 13 points. 

Mourinho's team have also breezed through their Champions League group, although their defence of the League Cup ended with a shock defeat to Bristol City. They have scored more goals than last season and have the second best defensive record in the league, despite spells without Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.

To go from sixth to title challengers is an achievement in itself, and the progress they have made is obvious. Under normal circumstances, Mourinho would be delighted. But City's run, that could end in a record-breaking season, has taken the shine off anything United have done.

Star Man

David De Gea is having another fantastic season while Antonio Valencia, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones have all been consistently good. Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial have also had positive spells. Martial, in particular, has improved drastically from last season.

But it's Paul Pogba who has been United's key man. He's been creative from the centre of midfield, scoring goals and setting up others. The Frenchman has been so good that questions about whether or not he is worth £89.3 million have all but disappeared.

The problem for Mourinho, though, is that he has not been available for enough games. Pogba has already missed 12 games with a hamstring injury and three through suspension. His personal record in the Premier League this season is played nine, won seven and drawn two. United have only lost once when he has started, and even that was against Basel in Switzerland when Champions League qualification was all but assured.

He has also sat out games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. In the one game he has played against the top six this season, he set up two goals in a 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates -- probably the most impressive result of Mourinho's reign. If United have any hope of getting back in the title race, and getting to the later rounds of the Champions League, he needs to stay fit.

Paul Pogba returned to the Manchester United team against Newcastle.
Paul Pogba has enjoyed a fine second season back at Manchester United but he hasn't been available enough.


It was supposed to be a big season for Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his second year after his move from Borussia Dortmund. All Mourinho's summer preparations were built around the Armenian playing in the No.10 role behind Lukaku and he started the season with five assists in his first three games. But he hasn't had one since.

Mkhitaryan's form has dipped so much that Mourinho has regularly left him out of the squad. He wasn't even on the bench against Manchester City, leaving Jesse Lingard to play behind Lukaku.

It has led to stories that United are ready to dump the 28-year-old in favour of signing Mesut Ozil -- a player Mourinho knows well from their time together at Real Madrid -- on a free transfer from Arsenal next summer.

Mkhitaryan went through something similar at the start of last season, but battled back to become a regular in the team and scored in the Europa League final. That, though, seems like a long way off at the moment.

Jose Mourinho has improved Manchester United but his achievements have been put into the shade by Manchester City.

Key Question

Can United catch City? It's the only question that will matter to Mourinho. The Premier League was his top priority this season, which is why he was so keen to sign Lukaku and Matic, two players with experience of English football.

Mourinho's record of winning titles in his second season is incredible, but it is going to take some comeback to do it again. Even at this early stage, United can probably not afford another defeat while City would need to go through a severe bad patch.

The busy winter fixture list will give Mourinho hope, although that 2-2 draw at Leicester was not the best of starts. United had their best run in December and January last season while Pep Guardiola's side struggled to cope with the extra workload.

If that happens again, United have a chance. But if the gap is still 13 points on Feb. 1, they are going to find it very difficult.

It's not over yet, but United need to start putting pressure on City soon.

Predicted Finish

Premier League: 2nd.

FA Cup: Runners-up.

Champions League: Quarterfinals.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.


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