If Real Madrid’s midfield concerns were not already bad enough, Paul Pogba’s return to action may just give Carlo Ancelotti a few more sleepless nights.
The France international, sidelined with a hamstring injury since the Champions League last-16 win over Borussia Dortmund in March, made his comeback from the start in the 1-1 draw against Cagliari on Saturday and showed little sign of rustiness.
As Massimiliano Allegri rested almost all of his first-team stars, Pogba – playing alongside Claudio Marchisio and Roberto Pererya at the heart of midfield – was granted the licence to roam without any undue pressure and came close early on with some range-finders from distance.
The former Manchester United man almost carved out the opening goal for Alessandro Matri with a cleverly-disguised through-ball but the striker got the ball stuck under his feet. Pogba himself then wasted a good chance with a half-volley after some fine chest control in the area.
But the 22-year-old did not have to wait too long. With just minutes remaining of the first half, Pogba cut inside from the left and fizzed a shot towards the far post, with the ball taking a wicked deflection in the crowded penalty area before hitting the back of the net. He was eventually taken off just past the hour mark to a standing ovation from the reduced crowd inside Juventus Stadium.
Pogba was unquestionably playing in second gear during his return to action and he twice failed to stop Diego Farias running off him through the centre in Cagliari’s rare forays forward, but Allegri will doubtless have been thrilled with his attacking display as he prepares for the trip to Madrid.
For the Champions League holders, Pogba’s goalscoring return adds another complication to their bid to overturn a 2-1 deficit. With Sergio Ramos likely to remain in the heart of midfield despite his abject display in Turin, Allegri will know the value of having Pogba’s arsenal ready to unleash, even if it is from the bench.
“I’m not yet 100 per cent after 52 days out but I’m fine, I’m happy,” he told Sky at half-time. Given his efforts on Saturday, Madrid will hope it takes a little longer for the towering Frenchman to get back into full stride.