MANCHESTER UNITED 4 : FERNERBACHE 1 MAN U SHINE IN EUROPA LEAGUE
Nights like this have been few and far between but as Jose Mourinho shook his fist in celebration and pointed towards the directors’ box, where the men who sanctioned Paul Pogba’s world-record transfer to Old Trafford were sitting, he no doubt must’ve have been delighted at the French man’s quite wonderful goal.
Pogba has struggled to carry the burden of that £89million fee since joining United. We’ve had the flash haircuts, the rap video, even the hashtag (#pogback if you missed it). What we’ve not seen very much of is a young man justifying his price tag and the £230,000-a-week wages that go with it.
He was signed to grace the Champions League, not the Europa League, of course; to beat better teams than this Fenerbahce side.
But there was no taking away from the glorious strike that put this match to bed in the final moments before half-time.
Pogba had already fired United ahead from the penalty spot when Wayne Rooney overlapped on the right and fired a cross to the feet of Jesse Lingard.
Lingard laid it into the Frenchman’s path and Pogba did not hesitate, curling an exquisite shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
Mourinho’s pleasure was plain to see. It was a fantastic team goal and a top finish from a player he knows is under huge pressure to produce more. What will have impressed him just as much was Pogba’s confidence in taking the responsibility off Rooney when United won the first of two penalties inside three minutes in the first half.
There wasn’t too much debate about either decision by French referee Benoit Bastien.
The first was the result of a quite stupendous 40-yard raking pass by Michael Carrick that picked out Juan Mata’s run into the box. The Spaniard’s first-time control was just as good, but there was still no need for Simon Kjaer to put his hands over Mata and drag him to the ground.
Rooney looked as though he wanted to take it, but Pogba stepped in and then stepped forward with an almost comical, stuttering run-up on his tip-toes. It seemed to work, though, sending goalkeeper Volkan Demirel the wrong way before he steered the ball inside the opposite post.
‘I told Wayne I wanted to take the penalty and he let me,’ said the Frenchman. ‘I am very happy to score that penalty and from a player like him to let me is big respect, so I am very glad.’
It was a magnanimous gesture by Rooney to a young team-mate, particularly as he is only three goals behind United’s all-time record scorer Sir Bobby Charlton.
But 12 years after he announced his arrival at Old Trafford with a Champions League hat-trick against Fenerbahce, it could also be seen as a measure of Rooney’s place in the new order.
This was, after all, his first start in five games. He’s one of the Thursday night brigade now. He did not get a sniff of United’s second penalty either.
Mata swivelled to drill a pass into the path of Anthony Martial, who was going clear of Sener Ozbayrakli as he was sent crashing to the floor.
Pogba and Rooney stood aside to let Martial take the penalty and he buried it in exactly the same place, despite Demirel guessing the right way this time.
Fenerbahce’s best chance of the first half fell to Souza from a breakaway in the 37th minute. He cut inside Eric Bailly’s desperate lunge but David de Gea stood his ground in the United goal and saved with his legs. Victory was subsequently assured when Pogba struck that beauty in first-half injury-time, and the second period was little more than two minutes old when Lingard added a fourth for United.
Pogba played a pass into Rooney on the edge of the box and he came up with his second assist of the night with a lay-off that invited Lingard to shoot from 20 yards. The finish was clinical, dispatched into the bottom left-hand corner.
Former United favourite Robin van Persie got almost as big a cheer when he pulled one back in the 84th minute, turning Emmanuel Emenike’s cross home from close-range.
The Dutchman responded by saluting all four sides of the ground. It was a nice touch but this was a night when a new United hero finally began to emerge.
Pogba though impressive will find it decidedly hard to convince nay-sayers with this performance until he begins to deliver it week in week out in the Premier League. But he would have done his confidence no harm scoring twice and generally putting a good shift in.