Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho praised Paul Pogba for “putting himself forward for the team” after he captained the side and scored the opening goal in the win over Leicester City on the first day of the Premier League season.
Pogba – linked with Barcelona this summer – was a surprise starter only four days after his return to training, having won the World Cup with France just under a month ago.
The hosts made a flying start at Old Trafford, winning a penalty in the second minute when Daniel Amartey handled Alexis Sanchez’s deflected shot.
Pogba stepped up and, after a typically nonchalant slow run-up, placed the ball in the top-right corner above Kasper Schmeichel.
Left-back Luke Shaw then scored the first senior goal of his career after controlling Juan Mata’s aerial pass to double their lead.
Substitute Jamie Vardy headed a late consolation for Leicester after Ricardo Perreira’s cross had hit a post, and Foxes goalkeeper Schmeichel came forward for an injury-time corner but his header went wide.
Pogba lasted 84 minutes before being replaced by Marouane Fellaini, but Mourinho said he did not expect the Frenchman to play for so long.
“We thought maximum 60 minutes but he managed over 80,” said the United boss. “The decision belonged to Paul. I asked him and he made himself available and he was very good.
“Paul’s contribution was amazing but the fuel was disappearing.”
Pogba brought his World Cup form into the opening stages, producing a couple of excellent early passes before the opening goal.
A penalty was fairly awarded with Amartey’s arm high when he handled – although the video assistant referee was not an option to review the decision, with the Premier League the only one of Europe’s top five leagues not using the system this year.
Pogba – with two stars shaved into his scalp to celebrate France’s second World Cup win – had a brief word with Alexis Sanchez before deciding to take the kick himself.
After an unusual staggered run-up, he scored, although his celebrations were muted. He has now scored in his last two games – his previous match being the World Cup final when he was on target in a 4-2 win over Croatia.
By the time he was replaced by Fellaini in the latter stages, at 2-0 up and seemingly safe, he had touched the ball more times and played more passes than any of his team-mates.
He came off to handshakes from the bench after a good job well done.
“I didn’t have any pre-season games, I came back on Monday so it was very hard for the legs,” said Pogba.
“Winning the World Cup is in the past. I like challenges, I want to progress and win more trophies.”
United got their season off to a winning start but their performance, after a promising opening, left plenty of questions unanswered.
Mourinho has appeared grumpy all summer after failing to sign any of his centre-back targets – including Leicester’s Harry Maguire, who played the full 90 minutes at Old Trafford.
The Red Devils fielded an unfamiliar back four, with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – who played a total of 99 minutes together last season – in the centre and Shaw and Matteo Darmian on the sides.
Both centre-backs did well to deal with the threat of bustling Leicester forward Kelechi Iheanacho, although Darmian was given a torrid time by Demarai Gray in the first half.
Shaw took advantage of his chance with his first goal since England Under-17s’ 4-0 win over Lithuania in 2011. He took on Mata’s high pass, beat Ricardo and then poked the ball beyond Schmeichel.
“Luke’s game was very complete, even if I forget the goal,” said Mourinho. “He made maybe one mistake defensively in the whole match and the linesman could have helped him with a free-kick. He just has to keep going.”