What We Learned: Paul Pogba is the player Manchester United have been waiting for


Manchester United beat Newcastle United 4-1 in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday evening, despite going a goal down which was scored by Dwight Gayle in the 14th minute of the match after Victor Lindelof, making his Premier League debut – form the start, slipping and allowing him the space to score. United fought to find an equaliser, eventually doing do in the 37th minute of the match through Anthony Martial with the Frenchman set up with a precise cross from compatriot Paul Pogba, making his return from a two-month absence due to injury. Chris Smalling put United ahead at the bear with a headed effort, assisted by Ashley Young as United looked to spoil the Magpies’ ‘cup final’.

United took less than ten minutes to score again, doing so through Pogba, who was assisted with a sweet header across the goal by Marcus Rashford, who had a good match despite not getting on the scoresheet himself. Romelu Lukaku ended his seven-match goal drought in the 70th minute of the match, thundering his effort into the roof of the net. Marouane Fellaini replaced Pogba just before United’s fourth goal, then Zlatan Ibrahimovic replaced Martial seven minutes later, with Ander Herrera replacing Juan Mata six minutes after that. It was a near-perfect three points for United, a clean sheet would have made it much better. United are now back in second place in the league, still eight points adrift of league leaders Manchester City.

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Victor Lindelof may take some time to reach the speed of a Manchester United defender

The Swedish international played both legs against Italy in the play-off for a FIFA World Cup place next summer. Sweden scored in the first leg, drawing 0-0 in the second. Lindelof played well in both matches, showing that he has what it takes to play football at the highest level. Playing in the Premier League is a different kettle of fish for the Swede and despite some poor errors of judgement, he has not hit it off at United, yet anyway. Those knowledgeable about football will know that players do not always hit it off straight away – Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra for instance – both became greats of Manchester United, showing there is hope for Lindelof.

The Swede maintained possession with 97% of his passes reaching a teammate, also creating two key chances – neither found a goal. Lindelof won one of two aerial duels, also putting in six clearances, fouling a Newcastle player once. There are positives to his performance. He slipped to help Newcastle take the lead, some of the best have done that and worse. Give him time, Jose Mourinho has seen something good in him – we need to let that come out in a United shirt. In time, I am sure it will come. Today was a step in the right direction for Victor Lindelof.

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Paul Pogba is the man for Manchester United – when he is not playing, he is missed – greatly

The last two months have shown some good football, but with Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines through injury, United did not have the depth in midfield that they had with both player fit and raring to go. Pogba’s recovery from a hamstring injury came at the right time, just as United needed a win and boy did they get a big one. Defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before the international break was tough and may not have been avoided with Pogba in the side, but you never know. United were eight points adrift of Manchester City, 11 after their 2-0 victory over Leicester City this afternoon and it was important United kept that to eight points.

Pogba put the effort in form the start of the match, not that it was telling after conceding the opening goal in the 14th minute, but with United’s resurgence, domination and determination to find the equaliser, which was not present when he was not in the team at Chelsea, United dug deep and eventually found the equaliser, scored by Anthony Martial and assisted by Pogba. In the 54th minute, his tap-in showed his class, and the strength-in-depth within the team. United were happy Pogba was back today, the fans were happy and most importantly, Jose Mourinho will be happy as the Frenchman inspired something at the Theatre of Dreams, also sending that ‘wee club from the North East’ packing after losing their cup final.

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Romelu Lukaku back on a goalscoring run

Romelu Lukaku had scored 11 goals for United by the time the international break in early October had started. He scored for Belgium during that break but after returning to United endured a seven-match goal drought, in which United were seeking other players to step forward. United had been free-scoring in many matches before this time, but that ‘luck’ had now worn off. Injuries were causing problems, there was no strength-in-depth at the club and United seemed so one-dimensional. Lukaku was frustrated and tried to get the better of his longest drought at a club after his career had taken off. Nothing was coming for the Belgian striker.

During the last international break, Lukaku scored three goals for his country, becoming the top scorer for Belgium, despite it not being recognised by FIFA. The confidence found whilst playing for Belgium seems to have paid off as Lukaku, despite having some chances, eventually scored that elusive goal in the 70th minute of the match. Paul Pogba had returned to action on the same day, becoming the driving force behind United’s success on the day, beating Newcastle United 4-1, which could have been more. Lukaku needs to use that inspiration and the fact the club has Zlatan Ibrahimovic back too, which will mean the club will not be so reliant on one striker, using one or the other, perhaps even both for some matches this season.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ready to make the headlines again

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has taken nearly seven months to recover from the knee injury he sustained in a UEFA Europa League match back in April, which could have ended his career – the honour of playing the Europa League final in his native Sweden was missed, despite the appearance of the Swede in the final. He signed a new contract with United in the summer, wanting to continue what he started last season, firing United to a league title, needing to get the better of Manchester City first. The lion who does not heal like a human was back, albeit in a cameo appearance – which could have seen him score a sublime bicycle-kick goal from the left flank, but the goalkeeper thwarted it.

The return of the ‘lion’ will give United and Mourinho other options, which will help the side be less predictable, especially in the fact he can play as a striker, or even a number ten, as has been talked about in the media over the past week. Ibrahimovic could even play alongside Lukaku, which would be good to see as that could be a devastating front line for United, not a good thought for the opposition. Mourinho will need to manage the return of Ibrahimovic, using him right so that he does not see a recurrence of his injury, Pogba will be the same. This will boost United though, as the confidence starts to return after the injuries hit, the scorelines could be much better for United, especially if Lukaku and Ibrahimovic hit it off.

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Manchester United have a lot to do in order to gain ground on Manchester City. The best thing Mourinho and his side can concentrate on doing is winning their matches. City will fall fouls of a team soon, they are not that untouchable. Look at Tottenham Hotspur, the favourite of the media. They were Premier League challengers during the last two seasons, finishing third and second – not having what it takes to prevail and take the glory. Now they have been beaten by three of the top six teams from last season, which shows they are not untouchable. City will be there at some point. I don’t believe they are such a special side bust because of their manager and the way they have played recently. If/when City come unstuck, United need to pounce and take advantage. The Manchester derby on the 10th December is a must-win match for Mourinho and United, which could see the eight-point gap decrease if it has not already lengthened or decreased at that time. If United keep on winning their league matches, they are heading in the right direction.

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