When Jose Mourinho appointed Michael Carrick as Manchester United’s captain in the summer he refused to identify an understudy for the veteran midfielder. The Portuguese explained that, while the armband would be handed to somebody or other, with Antonio Valencia so far being given that honour, he expected a number of his players to act like leaders on the field.
In Paul Pogba, United have their leader in style if not in name. The 2-0 victory over Leicester City on Saturday was the latest exhibition of the Frenchman’s accession to the throne. One year on from the questions and the claims he was a waste of money at £89.5 million, Pogba is now the beating heart of everything good about Mourinho’s side.
With Nemanja Matic added to the midfield, Pogba has so much more licence to get involved in attacks than he had during his first full season with the club last term. And he is sure as hell using that space too.
n the first half United huffed and puffed with all of their might to blow Leicester’s house down but just couldn’t find an opener, with Pogba raining shots in from all angles. Even as they went into the break goalless it appeared an inevitability that the home side would score sooner rather than later.
That looked set to be the case when they were awarded a penalty in the 53rd minute following Danny Simpson’s handball from an Anthony Martial cross, but Romelu Lukaku saw his attempt from the spot brilliantly saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
They eventually got their goal when Marcus Rashford side-footed home from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s right-wing corner, with Schmeichel seemingly caught flat-footed by Eric Bailly’s near-post run.
Rashford’s goal was United’s sixth to come in the 70th minute or later in their three league games so far, and Marouane Fellaini’s inadvertent goal eight minutes from the end made it seven. In 2016-17 they scored a grand total of just 13 in the same period while conceding nine as they often found themselves hanging on in the latter stages of the game.
This is a new United, though, and their success in eventually making their superiority count late in games is somewhat reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson’s days. Which is ironic in many ways, since this side feels like a completely new entity to that seen during the reign of the legendary manager.
Only David de Gea, Antonio Valencia and Phil Jones of Saturday’s starting XI were at the club when Ferguson retired four years ago, and Pogba’s return under new stewardship has helped to move United on from the club Fergie left behind.
He fell just short of Andy Robertson’s Premier League season high number of touches in a game by registering 131 and, while he didn’t find the target with his six shots at goal, his fingerprints were all over the victory. This was Pogba leading by example and United following with some aplomb.
For United, the league table could barely look better after three games. Three wins, nine points, 10 goals. With every game they look less and less like the slow, ponderous outfit of the last couple of seasons and more like a blockbusting outfit ready to take on the entire country.