Pogba and Bailly show encouraging signs for Man United and more talking points

Matt Jones 11/08/2018
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Paul Pogba was United's captain on the night and gave them an early lead.

Manchester United just about got their season off to a winning start with Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw goals seeing off a determined Leicester City – who earned a consolation through Jamie Vardy.

Here are the talking points from the 2018/19 Premier League opener.

CAPTAIN POGBA STEPS UP

Pog

The season wasn’t even two minutes old, but it felt like a seminal moment.

A pulsating start from United yielded an alarmingly idiotic handball from Daniel Amartey and the Red Devils had the chance to start the new campaign on the front foot.

Paul Pogba, captain for the night and perhaps in the long term, stutter-stepped his way up to the ball rather ponderously, but the resultant kick was emphatic. High beyond the dive of Kasper Schmeichel and soaring into the roof of the net. And just like that, United also had lift-off.

Old Trafford seemed noisier than it had been in a while. And although they didn’t have things all their own way as a talented Leicester side settled into the game and tested their illustrious hosts, Jose Mourinho’s side weathered the storm.

Pogba, surprisingly, started. And with the armband strapped on, after much speculation over his Old Trafford future in recent weeks, eyes were on him more than ever.

He showed flashes of class and style, but the petulance that can so often dominate his performances also reared its head. Generally though this was a performance to remember rather than forget.

He needs to have a big season, both personally and for United to be successful. This was a pretty good start.

BAILLY CAN BE WORLD CLASS IF HE STAYS FIT

Bailly

United didn’t bring in the centre-back Mourinho desperately craved but on the face of it, it’s not the biggest issue for the boss – certainly if (and it’s a massive ‘if’) Eric Bailly can keep himself on the field.

The Ivorian was brought in from Villarreal three seasons ago to much fanfare. He impressed in his debut campaign – a refreshing tower of strength and a player who relished the physical battle. He made 38 appearances in all competitions and helped deliver his new club the League Cup and a first-ever Europa League crown.

Then, he fell apart, completing only 18 matches in 2017/18 due to an ankle injury.

But against Leicester and in the face of a real battle after the Foxes fought their way back from going down to Pogba’s early penalty, a player often accused of being brittle was a totem of strength, adequately dealing with the speed and guile of Kelechi Iheanacho.

The 24-year-old registered two tackles and an interception, and his six clearances was second only to centre-back partner Victor Lindelof.

His 95.8 per cent pass accuracy was also the best of any player in the starting 22.

His one flaw was perhaps reacting slowly to the cross that came in leading to Vardy’s late consolation.

It is too early to tell if Bailly is truly back, but this certainly bodes well.

FOXES SHOW FIGHT

Leicester

It was the worst possible start for Claude Puel and his players. And after going a goal down and the Old Trafford crowd surprisingly raucous, Leicester could have lost their nerve.

But the famous Theatre of Dreams is not quite as fearsome a place as it used to be for away teams and after weathering the storm, the away side settled and showed plenty of promise – David De Gea called upon to pull off a tremendous stop to deny James Maddison.

With Demarai Gray roasting Matteo Darmian regularly and new signing Maddison – the Championship’s best player last term – making the step up to the top level with consummate ease, Puel will have taken plenty of positives from this tough opening fixture.

He has kept hold of his best player in Harry Maguire, tied fleet-footed forward Vardy down to a new deal and has added depth to an already talented squad.

Apart from a tricky date with Liverpool early next month, Leicester have a pretty kind run of seven fixtures now coming up.

After a bolshy beginning here and quality added over the summer, they will be confident of surpassing last term’s ninth-placed finish.

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Luke Shaw takes chance and Paul Pogba is spot on in our Manchester United player ratings

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Paul Pogba stroked in a penalty-kick during his first appearance since lifting the World Cup and Luke Shaw broke his career duck as Manchester United began the 2018/19 Premier League with a 2-1 win against Leicester City.

Last term’s runners-up sprung a surprise with the inclusion of France midfielder Pogba, 25, from the start. He showed no rust in just the third minute – despite only returning to training on Monday – when he converted from 12 yards after Ghana right-back Daniel Amartey’s sloppy handball.

United failed to step up a gear on Friday night and Spain No1 David De Gea had to be alert to paw away winger Demarai Gray’s second-half volley. This jolted the hosts at Old Trafford back into life and left-back Shaw showed great skill to earn space in the box and find the bottom corner in the 83rd minute.

England striker Jamie Vardy then headed in a fortuitous injury-time goal for the visitors, but United held on.

Here are our player ratings:

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3)

David De Gea – 7: He underwhelmed for Spain in Russia, but the 27-year-old comes into his own at club level. Produced wonderful saves from Premier League debutant James Maddison and Gray. Helpless as Ricardo Pereira cross skidded through at the death.

Matteo Darmian – 6: This was an encouraging performance for United in two respects. Darmian was much improved from the erratic figures of previous campaigns, plus it’s likely increased the price the club are demanding of the right-back’s Italian suitors.

Eric Bailly – 6: A typical, all-action display from the Ivory Coast international – who looked recovered from knock against Bayern Munich. Spoiled it at the end with hesitancy dealing with Pereira centre.

Victor Lindelof – 6: Confidence-boosting selection for the Sweden international. Stood up to physical threat at set-pieces and did well on the ground against Leicester’s pacy attackers. A better second season awaits.

Luke Shaw – 8: A huge smile crept across his face when he scored for the first time in his career. This capped off a fine display from the 23-year-old. Even manager Jose Mourinho cheered the goal – is this the turning point for Shaw?

Fred – 6: This was a solid debut for the £47 million summer signing from Shakhtar Donetsk. Won fair share of the ball and put in 92.3-per-cent pass completion from 52 passes, before being substituted.

Andreas Pereira – 7: The Brazil youth international had been waiting for this moment. His first league start in England after several seasons away saw him do well at the base of midfield. Mourinho must have been impressed.

Paul Pogba – 7: No minutes in pre-season and fresh off his holiday, Pogba showed his class to authoritatively strike from the spot in just the third minute. Influence was then understandably intermittent, plus he was dispossessed a United high four times. But after months of rumours about his reported disquiet, this was the response Mourinho was hoping for.

Juan Mata – 7: The Spain playmaker blew hot and cold. Showed class to tee up Shaw for opening goal.

Marcus Rashford – 5: The new holder of the No10 shirt had a night to forget. Appeared to take a knock in the first half and had no attempts on goal in 66 minutes of action.

Alexis Sanchez – 6: Another to put in an inconsistent performance. Messed up a few opportunities on the break with poor passes, but also produced several eye-catching flicks. Something to work on for the January arrival.

SUBS

Romelu Lukaku – 5: Should have scored, but denied by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s legs.

Scott McTominay – N/A: A trusted lieutenant for Mourinho. Did a job to plug midfield.

Marouane Fellaini – N/A: Man who looked like he was poised to leave United was present to see things through.

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Jose Mourinho puts on a brave face as Manchester United take on Leicester

Simon Peach 10/08/2018
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Jose Mourinho was left frustrated by a lack of deadline-day activity as Manchester United failed to bring in the centre-back he craved.

After sealing deals for Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant by early July, last season’s Premier League runners-up were unable to add further despite the Portuguese’s explicit desire to bring in two more players.

Mourinho warned it could be a “difficult season” if United did not bring in at least one more face, with centre-back the main focus in a market that was inflated by last summer’s deals.

According to reports, United were ready to spend big on a world-class defender, with a £100million move for Raphael Varane considered before Real Madrid made it clear that the France international was not for sale.

A number of other centre-backs were tracked but the club found few realistic options to markedly improve their backline as they attempted to balance long-term success with Mourinho’s hunger for silverware.

The United boss had been braced for the deadline-day disappointment and warned ahead of Friday’s Premier League opener against Leicester that the lack of improvement could return to haunt them this winter.

Asked if he had the tools to compete without new signings, Mourinho said: “I have my players, I like my players, I like to work with my players.

“One lie repeated 1,000 times is still a lie, but the perception of the people is that it’s true but it’s still a lie.

“So, when you repeat 1,000 times that my relationship with my players is not good, it’s a lie that repeated 1,000 times is still a lie. But again, the perception of the people that reads can be different, but I like my players and my group.

“I enjoy the last season, the fight to finish where we finished and to manage the best position in five or six years. I’m going to enjoy this season. Again, I know the words you want me to say or not to say. It depends on the music, but words for me don’t come easy.

“I think by the end of November or December, you don’t need words – you will see by then which teams are candidates to win the Premier League.

“In this moment, words are not important. Let’s play football and by the end of November or December, you don’t need words. You will see which teams are candidates.”

United had been interested in signing Harry Maguire this summer, but Leicester’s steadfast refusal to sell scuppered any move for the England star.

Misgivings over Jerome Boateng’s fitness and Bayern Munich’s reluctance to do a loan deal ruled that option out, while Atletico Madrid were contacted about Diego Godin but it quickly became evident that the move was a no-go.

Barcelona defender Yerry Mina joined Everton as prohibitive agent demands put off United and no offer is understood to have been tabled for Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld. The only one top-level conversation between the clubs was Spurs enquiring about two of United’s players.

Anthony Martial is believed to be one of them but the United forward is going nowhere, nor is compatriot Paul Pogba amid reported interest from Barcelona and supposed tensions with Mourinho.

“My perception? He arrived Monday, happy, proud, with a desire to work,” the United boss said of the club-record signing.

“He worked amazingly well Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and he’s one of the players that I have to speak to see how physically and mentally he feels. But it’s the same conversation as with (Ashley) Young, (Marouane) Fellaini, (Jesse) Lingard, it’s the same. To know how they feel physically, mentally to try to give us a help.”

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