France international Pogba played, and scored, in the World Cup final just 26 days ago but with options thin on the ground he barely hesitated when invited to take to the field against the Foxes.
Mourinho would rather have had more bodies available due to successful transfers – and made one pointed reference to his own role in the recruitment process – but he could not fail to be impressed by Pogba’s powerhouse showing in the 2-1 win.
The midfielder successfully converted a third-minute penalty to give his side the lead and gave everything until the 84th minute – by which point Luke Shaw’s first career goal had doubled the advantage.
Jamie Vardy’s sniper’s effort set up a tense finale but, after a frustrating summer, Mourinho was at least able to celebrate three points.
“Pogba was a monster, we thought maximum 60 minutes but he managed (more than) 80,” he said. “Pre-season was very hard and we needed this fantastic spirit by the players to manage this performance and this result.
“(Picking Pogba) was not hard, the decision belonged to him. Andreas Pereira comes from the Valencia bench as a winger to play number six, Fred (has had) 10 days training (and comes from) the Ukrainian league direct to Old Trafford. Ander Herrera injured.
“I had only two options, Scott (McTominay) or Paul, but if I play Scott I play two kids and a new player, so I asked Paul and he put himself available for the team and he was very, very good for us.”
The Portuguese gave a firm hint that three points did not fully assuage his feelings about United’s modest transfer activity.
Midfielder Fred arrived for big money but he was the only major new signing as Mourinho’s appeals for fresh defensive blood went unheeded.
That led to a pointed tip of the hat towards Leicester’s summer business – which ended up exceeding that of the Red Devils.
“We played well in periods against a good team that invest more than us. We must get used to teams who have players of the same quality that we have,” he said.
“Every team is a good team, forget the name, forget the history, forget the shirt.
“I had my plans for many months and I find myself with the market closed in a situation I did not think I would be in. It’s the last time I speak about it. It’s over, the market is closed.
“That’s football management. I think football is changing and managers should be called head coaches. We have to wait until the end of November to understand if we can fight for the title.”
Foxes boss Claude Puel decided to start with England’s Harry Maguire – one of Mourinho’s targets – but not Vardy, who was introduced from the bench.
The striker played considerably fewer minutes in Russia than his team-mate but Puel explained his selection was a balancing act.
“I made a choice to try and finish the game,” he said. “All my players did not have 90 minutes in their legs and bodies.
“Harry started and played well, Jamie came in with good quality and scored. We had a lot of problems preparing this game.
“Harry and Jamie came back just on Monday, with few training sessions, but I have a lot of injuries and players not available from the World Cup. In this condition it has been a good performance.”
The midfielder, a World Cup winner with France, has been the subject of speculation in recent days concerning both a possible transfer to Barcelona and his relationship with manager Jose Mourinho.
He was handed the captain’s armband against the Foxes and set United on their way to a 2-1 victory with an early penalty – but appeared to allude to off-field issues in a post on his social media accounts after the game.
Pogba wrote: “I’ll always give my best to the fans and my teammates no matter what’s going on. #pogfeelings”.
While the Premier League transfer window closed on Thursday evening, clubs elsewhere in Europe can still buy players until the end of August and reports of a move to Barca have persisted.
Mourinho hailed Pogba’s “monster” performance after the game but also once more referenced United’s lack of signings this summer, saying: “I find myself with the market closed in a situation I did not think I would be in.”
Having been heavily linked with a move to Friday’s opponents during the transfer window, the 25-year-old had a chance to show United what they’d missed out on.
However, it was a below-par performance from the Englishman as Leicester lost 2-1 despite looking promising.
Here’s an in-depth analysis of his display.
Goals – 0
Tackles – 0
Clearances – 3
Blocks – 0
Aerial duels won – 33%
Passing accuracy – 91%
It was a quiet display from the defender. There was little he could have done for either United goal, and he stood up well to any United threat directly in his area.
He produced his usual composed passing, but none of the attacking forays he’s become known for, and he was well-marshalled by his United counterparts whenever Leicester had a set-piece.
Thus, his impact was minimised, and he looked short of the commanding defender he’s earned a reputation for being.
Reading of the game – Maguire can always be counted on to read the game well, and he was at it again here as he was often in the right place at the right time to cut out United attacks.
Passing – His distribution is a key trait of Maguire’s game, and although he didn’t play any of the eye-catching passes he’s at times capable of, Maguire ensured Leicester stayed in control of possession when they were dominating the game.
For a player so strong in the air as well as in the tackle, those attributes were a little less apparent on Friday. Though he used his strength well when required, he won only one of his three aerial duels, and didn’t make a single tackle in the entire game, a shocking statistic.
He also rarely drove forward with the ball in his usual manner, even when Leicester were in the ascendancy, and thus wasn’t much of an attacking threat.
The commanding defender who became England’s new hero at the World Cup this summer was hardly seen in Manchester on Friday.
Though he was powerless to prevent the two goals and acquitted himself well otherwise, United’s board would have felt vindicated in deciding against spending £75million on him.
Given the reputation he’s earned over the last two seasons, and especially this summer, more is expected of Maguire now, and he didn’t live up to that in this game.
RATING – 6/10