Manchester United made it six points out of six, as José Mourinho maintains his perfect Premier League start with a comfortable 2-0 win over Southampton at Old Trafford.
But the story of the game, no matter the outcome, was always going to be Paul Pogba’s debut. The world record £89 millon midfielder was named in United’s starting eleven for the visit of the Saints.
And Pogba got off to an inauspicious start, as his first involvement was an errant swipe at the ball, gifting Southampton possession and setting the South Coast club off on a counter attack.
Pogba continued to look a little rusty for the first 10 minutes, but once the Frenchman stung the palms of goalkeeper Fraser Forster with the first shot of his second spell at Old Trafford, he seemed to find his footing and began to grow into the game.
But Southampton were proving to be no push-overs; Claude Puel’s men were set up in a 4-1-4-1 formantion which United found hard to break down. And with the pace of new signing Nathan Redmond and Shane Long, the Saints were a threat on the counter -- Long squandered a good opportunity to give his side the lead after half an hour, when his tame effort was easily saved by David de Gea.
The away side’s concentration lapsed on 36 minutes, though, when Wayne Rooney was afforded far too much room on the right side of the penalty area. The skipper’s powers may well be on the wane (no pun intended), but given that much space and time, he can still produce a quality delivery.
And the quality of Rooney’s cross was bettered only by the way Zlatan Ibrahimovic out-jumped José Fonte (reportedly a transfer target for United) and guided a bullet header beyond Forster to put United ahead.
And Southampton thought they’d pulled themselves level early in the second half, only for Dusan Tadic’s header to be ruled out for offside.
Then, just two minutes later, Luke Shaw was felled in the box and United were awarded a penalty. Ibrahimovic stepped up and dispatched the spot kick with his customary assuredness.
By this stage, Pogba was running the show: his strength and power saw him holding Southampton players at arm’s length while spraying passes around the pitch. The 23-year-old came close to scoring when he connected with a Juan Mata corner, but he couldn’t direct his header on target.
It was then Anthony Martial’s turn to threaten the Southampton goal, as he left Fonte for dead (this was not a great audition for a United move from the Southampton skipper), only to hesitate for a split-second before unleashing his shot, allowing Virgil van Dijk to sprint back and make a decisive block.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was given 15 minutes to showcase his skills after replacing Mata, and the Armenian demonstrated some tidy passing and lightning-quick feet.
In the final 10 minutes, Ander Herrera replaced Martial, and Chris Smalling made his first appearance of the season, coming on for Rooney with one minute of normal time remaining.
There was still time for Mkhitaryan to race away from several defenders and pick out Pogba, who was bounding forward to join the attack, 20 yards from goal.
Sensing the development of a particularly pleasing narrative, the Old Trafford crowd collectively held their breath as Pogba strode towards the ball. But the man of the moment flashed his shot wide of the post.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from United, but it was about as good as Mourinho could’ve wished for at this stage of the season. Eric Bailly was again impressive at the back, Ibrahimovic was named man of the match for his two goals, and Pogba played a full 90 minutes, looking every bit the box-to-box maestro United have been waiting so long for.