A summer of discontent at Old Trafford appeared to come to a head on Thursday as the transfer window ended without the reinforcements their manager had so publicly declared a priority.
Jose Mourinho’s relationship with his players has also come under scrutiny, but any such tension was forgotten as Pogba and Shaw – a duo that have endured ups and downs with the United boss – secured a 2-1 win against Leicester.
Victory in the Premier League opener was a much-needed shot in the arm after weeks of doom and gloom, with summer target Harry Maguire’s inclusion in the Foxes’ line-up serving as a reminder of what they missed.
But for all that could have been this summer, Mourinho certainly has the talent at his disposal to make this a successful season, especially if Pogba can replicate Friday night’s display.
Showing few signs of rust despite only returning to training this week, the World Cup winner, wearing the captain’s armband, impressed in possession and without it, leading by example and keeping his cool from the spot to give United an early lead after Daniel Amartey’s senseless handball.
United had several chances to extend their lead against a Leicester side that called David De Gea into action more often that Mourinho would like.
But the manager’s overriding emotion will be delight after the oft-criticised Shaw directed home his first goal for the club – and first in senior football – to put the result out of reach, despite substitute Jamie Vardy pulling one back in stoppage-time.
Mourinho lent heavily on those that served him well during a disrupted pre-season at Old Trafford, but such options are no slouches and it showed after 77 seconds when Shaw fed Alexis Sanchez to get away a shot handled by Amartey.
Referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot with none of the hesitation shown in Pogba’s run up to the spot-kick. The shuffling lead up may well become a meme, but a superb finish past Kasper Schmeichel justified it.
Leicester looked startled by United’s early intensity but began to feel their way into the match as debutant James Maddison impressed and their wide men made in-roads.
Demarai Gray clipped in a smart ball that Kelechi Iheanacho followed with a strike just across the face of goal, before a fierce Maddison shot was denied by De Gea.
City were making United rock, yet the hosts held firm and ended the half well.
Andreas Pereira, making his first United appearance since February 2016, looked sharp in midfield as did Pogba, who saw a long-range shot denied before Shaw’s tried his luck.
Matteo Darmian, hoping for a return to Italy before the end of the month, tested Schmeichel at the near post early into a second half that United started with bundles of possession but few clear-cut chances.
"In my career so far, it’s probably the best feeling I’ve had. Honestly, the best feeling to date was today."— Manchester United (@ManUtd) 10 August 2018
🎉 We couldn't be happier for you, Luke! pic.twitter.com/vv7WgfbxFb
Their best chance for a stretch came when skipper Pogba threaded through Sanchez, whose laid off for Juan Mata to get away a shot that was deflected just wide.
But it was far from one-way traffic. Eric Bailly did superbly to get back to deny Iheanacho and substitute Vardy bundled Shaw off the ball to send in a cross that Gray would have flicked home had De Gea not reacted well.
United were not to be denied, though, even after substitute Romelu Lukaku saw a low attempt stopped by Schmeichel, and it was Shaw, who has endured such a rough ride from Mourinho, who was the unlikely hero.
With seven minutes remaining, he flicked the ball around Leicester debutant Ricardo Pereira before sending a low left-footed strike home in front of a rocking Stretford End.
Vardy pulled one back in stoppage time after Pereira’s cross came back off the post.
Here are the talking points from the 2018/19 Premier League opener.
CAPTAIN POGBA STEPS UP
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
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
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.
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.
18 - Jose Mourinho is unbeaten in all 18 of his opening league matches of a season as a manager (W11 D7), winning nine of his 10 in the Premier League (D1). Specialist. pic.twitter.com/yr2QXDovOf— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 10, 2018
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.