Paul Pogba returns : Manchester United 2-0 Southampton: Paul Pogba returns to Old Trafford but Zlatan Ibrahimovic steals the show with match-winning brace
here may have been a moment, after referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot, when Wayne Rooney fondly imagined he might still be Manchester United’s penalty taker. He eyed the target happily. Here we go. Game over. Manchester United goal No 247, coming right up.
And then a giant man with a top-knot calmly collected the ball and placed it on the penalty spot. Rooney lives in Zlatan’s world now. And in Zlatan’s world only one man gets to take the penalties. Here’s a clue: it’s not Wayne Rooney.
So Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped up and stuck the ball, smartly, low to Fraser Forster’s right. It was his second goal of the night and Manchester United were 2-0 up. Meaning all was right in Zlatan’s world.
What an impact he has made at this club. That is four goals in three games, including the Community Shield, but even without them, his huge presence alone would have changed the dynamic. He is what Rooney has needed for several years now; a proper goalscoring foil. A partner who wants to take responsibility, to shoulder as much as share the load.
Paul Pogba returns
Ibrahimovic’s first goal was a header from a quite magnificent cross by Rooney – even if he was given too much room to deliver it by Steven Davis – and while the pair keep harmonising like this, United will in all likelihood remain the team to beat in the Premier League title race.
So Rooney won’t have minded his demotion, whether he was forewarned or not. This is perhaps the Manchester United team he had in mind when he went to Sir Alex Ferguson and rather impertinently asked about transfer policy. At one stage, Rooney found Juan Mata whose ball reached Ibrahimovic teeing up a shot for Paul Pogba, that was eventually saved. Rooney, Mata, Ibrahimovic, Pogba: that is some roll call. That is how a Manchester United build-up should sound.
Think back to 2008: Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Paul Scholes. This is a club that used to send some of the greatest talent in Europe into battle, but had lately been reduced to playing Ashley Young as a centre-forward. In one summer, Mourinho has started aiming for the stars again; aiming for exactly where Manchester United should be.
And, yes, it is only two games, and there are tougher opponents out there than Bournemouth and Southampton. But Southampton did finish sixth last season, just a place behind United. They are in the same European competition, the Europa League, entering at the same stage – and they won 1-0 on their last two visits to Old Trafford.
So this was a return to the natural order. Southampton did not play badly, but never looked like winning. They had 10 shots at the United goal but forced a single save from David De Gea – and an easy one at that – and capitulated in the second-half by conceding a foolish penalty that as good as ended the game.
Jordy Clasie’s challenge on Luke Shaw was rash and unnecessary and effectively locked Southampton out of the game. Mourinho is not one to take chances with his substitutions. United have scored three goals in their first two league fixtures, but Marcus Rashford has not come off the bench either time. Maybe he will if United are chasing; but they chase much on this form.