Classy Pogba wins praise

Paul Pogba scoring Manchester United's third goal in the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford after Newcastle United had scored the opening goal. The France midfielder was returning from a hamstring injury.
Paul Pogba scoring Manchester United's third goal in the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford after Newcastle United had scored the opening goal. The France midfielder was returning from a hamstring injury.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho lauds midfielder's role in 4-1 victory over Newcastle, with Ibrahimovic making a return

LONDON • He is Jose Mourinho's most expensive signing in the Portuguese's 17-year managerial career thus far, and Paul Pogba rightfully deserved all the praise when his manager declared him to be in a "different class" on Saturday.

The France midfielder's Man of the Match performance in Manchester United's 4-1 Premier League victory over Newcastle United was everything Mourinho's team have missed in recent times.

The 24-year-old returned after an injury absence of more than two months to score a goal and create one as United stayed second in the league table, eight points behind city rivals Manchester City.

"Paul Pogba is different class," Mourinho told BT Sport of his £89 million (S$159.4 million) signing last season.

"Paul and Nemanja Matic grew up together at the start of the season and are the engine of the team. He affects our football. When he was injured, I decided to close my mouth, because I thought it was the best thing to do at the time.

"We cannot be crying, we have to find solutions... and we all know that some players influence the level of the team. So with him we have much more creation, we have a second way out and I'm so happy.

"Let's see the best decision for Wednesday (for the Champions League match at Basel), if it is to play him or rest because he's a player we need to protect."

  • 38 Games Manchester United have gone unbeaten at home - a club record.

    7 Consecutive Premier League victories at Old Trafford, United's longest run since March 2013, when they won 12 straight under Sir Alex Ferguson.

    3 Goals and three assists for Paul Pogba in five EPL appearances this season.

Despite the convincing victory, United conceded the opener - the first league goal they had let in at Old Trafford since April - to Dwight Gayle in the 14th minute.

Mourinho's team, however, showed resilience to bounce back, thanks mainly to Pogba.

Back from an unnecessary tendon tear, he was the key to United's equaliser. The decisive moment was a combination of invention and imagination.

United had been behind for 24 minutes, struggling to both contain and break through what Mourinho recognised as Rafa Benitez's "very experienced, very intelligent" tactical set-up, when Pogba received the ball at the left apex of the penalty area.

Marked by Isaac Hayden and with Newcastle in good defensive shape, Pogba's options appeared limited to a return pass to Antonio Valencia. Instead the Frenchman shimmied the ball and his lanky frame back and forth, subtly shifting Hayden out of position before spinning a cross to the back post.

Anthony Martial, starting with Marcus Rashford for the first time, rose in the six-yard box to head in the equaliser.

From then on, United were the dominant side. Chris Smalling headed the hosts in front at the stroke of half-time and Pogba then tapped in Rashford's cushioned header early in the second half.

Romelu Lukaku added their fourth, swopping passes with Juan Mata and smashing home to end a seven-game goal drought.

In another boost for United, Mourinho admitted he felt emotional to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic return, following his career-threatening knee ligament operation.

"The second half was ours," added the United manager. "We had control, goals, beautiful actions and still time for a very emotional scene for all of us, who stayed close to such a professional with one of the biggest injuries in football.

"And so Zlatan coming back was a joy for everyone but for us close to him it was more than that, it was a big emotion to see the big guy back."

Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo - who like Ibrahimovic has been out since suffering serious knee injuries in April - was also on the bench.

Ibrahimovic, who came on 13 minutes from time and even managed a typical scissors kick which was saved, said that he had not been anxious about his return.

"I'm not worried at all," the 36-year-old Swede said. "I train hard, sacrifice a lot. I play in my head, my knee just needs to follow. Was I worried about returning? No.

"Lions don't recover like humans."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Classy Pogba wins praise'. Print Edition | Subscribe