After half an hour of play at Old Trafford on Thursday Night, if you’d told the fans that the game ended 4-1 they might not have believed you. The game it hadn’t been drab by any means, but the free flowing attacking desired hadn’t fully come out to play quite yet.
Then Juan Mata took a clever touch in the box, was clattered into and a penalty was given. Rather than Wayne Rooney to take it as expected, Paul Pogba was next in line to take the penalty, not his Captain. He calmly dispatched it into the bottom left corner and the floodgates opened.
It seemed like the next thing fans knew Anthony Martial was being fouled in the box before he stepped up next to make it 2-0. Pogba then returned to finish a fine team move with a goal that will be replayed by fans around the world until he scores his next “worldie” with a peach of a strike into the corner just above where his penalty hit the net.
The second half’s pace was slowed by the manner of the efficiency in which United scored their goals, but not before Jesse Lingard made it 4-0 when Pogba’s pass into Wayne Rooney was nicely laid off by the Captain into the path of Lingard who hit a fine strike into the bottom left side of the goal.
The man who alongside Michael Carrick played the biggest part United’s last title charge returned to Old Trafford. Chants of “Ohhhhhh, Robin Van Persieeeee!” rained around the ground, and due to the fact the Red Devils were already 4-0 up applause echoed around all four stands after the Dutchman scored with 10 minutes ago to make to 4-1.
If he had of scored in a more crucial moment the reception might have been different, but it was beautiful nevertheless to see a man so revered after such a short spell receive what was equivalent to a standing ovation. The club might not have paid tribute to him on social media until this week, but his 58 goals in 105 games won’t soon be forgotten by those who still love the man who wore 20 because “he wanted to bring the 20th title to the club” upon signing in 2012.
Manchester United have enjoyed a relatively trouble free injury spell so far this season. Sure, there have been slight niggles along the way and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s ongoing absence has caused concern and wild speculation but compared to years gone by where injury crisis’ have ruled, this season has been a welcome relief in that regard.
However, with Chelsea and Manchester City to come in the next week it was not an ideal sight to see Chris Smalling substituted at half time. Jose Mourinho gave an update on both the Englishman and Armenian Captain Mkhitaryan’s injury troubles:
“He (Smalling) had a bad muscular feeling,” the boss told MUTV. “We were 3-0 up so we decided to change. Hopefully he can recover for the weekend.”
“The situation is that we played with Lingard, with Mata and Martial,” Mourinho also told reporters. “I am not an Einstein, I don’t know a tactical system to play with four wingers at the same time. He (Mkhitaryan) has to work more to get the intensity and the real fitness to play at the high level.
To have him here tonight on the bench and to give him 15 to 20 minutes, like I did with Memphis, I thought it would be better for him to work the way he did yesterday and much harder, obviously. I thought it would be much better for him to work today, like he did in the specific session, than to wait for his chance. But he is ready. He is ready very soon.”
Could Mkhitaryan be ready for a return at Samford Bridge on Sunday?
Pogba Silences His Critics (For One More Game Anyway)
Paul Pogba has heard nothing but criticism since his return to Manchester. “Vine merchant”, “fraud”, “waste of money” are the terms following the world record signing around, with people more likely to discuss his hairstyles and adidas commercials when they criticise him.
His two goals on Thursday Night in the Europa League won’t silence them forever, but it was a display that will quieten the noise for at least another game depending how he fares at the Bridge on Sunday. His penalty was well placed despite a run up reminiscent of Zaza’s for Italy in the European Championships.
Pogba’s second goal was a treat though, and will be dominating video clips posted by Manchester United fans for a little while yet. Mourinho has had his star man’s back from day dot, and this has not changed per ESPNFC:
“Really, we know he is a very good player. We know he needs his time to show his potential. He needs time to adapt.
“He is a confident boy — he is not depressed because some people say he is a bad player — and he is just calm, so I don’t think today will make a big difference. But it’s always nice for a player to score goals at home, especially a beautiful goal.”
The best is yet to come from the Frenchman, and though it is his second spell in England it’s his first real experience of Senior English football. As he adapts more and more, he will improve. That’s a scary thought for the rest of England and indeed Europe.
“I told Wayne I wanted to take the penalty and he let me,” Pogba told BT Sport. “I am very happy to score that penalty and from a player like him to let me it is big respect so I am very glad.
I feel comfortable with all of the team. It is just at the start of the season and there is still a long way to go and we want to go up and do our best and be top of the [Premier] League. We wanted the win because it was really important and now we are top of the group and are looking forward to the next game.”
“Two days ago he was the worst player in the Premier League and 48 hours later he is phenomenal,” Mourinho said. “He needs time. I was in Italy, I know Italian football. To be in Italy for four or five years and come back, I was not expecting it to be a click of the fingers for intensity. He needs time.”
Opponents, you’ve been warned.
Mourinho & His Rotations Get It Right
Jose Mourinho got it absolutely right tonight. The team attacked well, defended well and got the result in an efficient fashion. It’s just what we would have wanted in an inconveniently scheduled Europa League game, and he got it.
Matteo Darmian did well on the right, surprising for a player with his lack of football. Eric Bailly started yet again and put in another tough display. What makes him irreplaceable in the team if Daley Blind sits out (which he did) is his increasingly impressive ability to distribute with more than just simple sideways passes. In modern football it is essential, and it’s what makes Smalling limited in a certain capacity.
Michael Carrick did well in his deep lying role, replacing the rested Ander Herrera. Timothy Fosu-Mensah celebrated his contract extension and did well in his brief midfield cameo after replacing Pogba (who enjoyed a standing ovation from the home fans), continuing to show his array of versatile talents.
United Offer Hint At What Is To Come
It’s undisputed that although their displays aren’t always an improvement on the last or a consistent 90 minutes of domination, there is certainly improvement from where they began under Jose Mourinho. They are still sorting through who is their best XI, or at least core or irreplaceable players.
David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic appear to be certainties for the best lineup, with Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Memphis battling it out for the other spots. Wayne Rooney of course is in there too, but his time in the best XI appears done.
Whilst they are a work in progress, their depth is starting to show itself. Once they sort out the rest? Watch out.