Paul Wilkes was at Old Trafford armed with Stats Zone to report on another brace from that man Zlatan, Paul Pogba’s second debut and more
The world’s most expensive player made his second debut for Manchester United, after two bookings in the Coppa Italia stopped him from appearing at Bournemouth. Pogba’s transfer fee is exceptionally high, given that he doesn’t score goals with the frequency of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that he is a very complete footballer.
He certainly didn’t look like an £89 million player inside the first 20 seconds, when United fans’ delirious cheers were cut short as he miscontrolled to allow Southampton a break away. “He was fantastic,” beamed Mourinho post-match. “The fact that his first action was bad, he gave away the ball and allowed the opponent to counter-attack. You can see even more the ego and the personality, he is so comfortable in his own style.”
The Frenchman was unfazed as he started to exert his influence on the game, and forced Fraser Forster into his first save in the 12th minute.
Pogba grew into the game and regularly had the home supporters on their feet with flashes of brilliance. One one occasion he rounded a Southampton player on the touchline before launching an accurate long ball into Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s path. In the 65th minute, the 23-year-old left both Jordy Clasie and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in his wake when he expertly weaved in between the two Saints midfielders.
“I don’t know what position he played,” joked his Portuguese boss. “We have to build a certain organisation around him, but he has to play free.”
2. Puel fails to stop Zlatan – again
Wayne and Paul told themselves that Zlatan should be first to take penalty
Ibrahimovic has now scored 18 goals in his last 10 league matches for Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain combined. The 34-year-old talisman has quickly set about reminding English audiences of his worth, with four goals in three games since arriving in Manchester.
The sharp-tongued Swede has adapted to the Premier League with ease, and his demeanour is certainly starting to rub off on his team-mates. His character and confidence will make a huge difference to United this season, especially on home turf.
He almost opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, when his acrobatic attempt just missed the upright. Pogba had chipped the ball to Juan Mata, with the Spaniard heading across the goal to the forward.
Seven minutes later Ibrahimovic did score when he headed in Wayne Rooney’s pinpoint cross. He added his second of the match when he netted from the penalty spot in the second half. “I designate three,” said Mourinho of his penalty takers. “Paul, Wayne and Zlatan. Sometimes I like the players to have a feeling that 'it’s for me', but Wayne and Paul told themselves that Zlatan should be first.”
Claude Puel must have nightmares about the Swede – Ibrahimovic scored 11 league goals against Puel’s Nice when he was in France, including two hat-tricks.
3. Hojbjerg shows why Guardiola rates him highly
Pogba wasn’t the only midfielder making his full debut at Old Trafford, as Hojbjerg started his first game for Southampton. The 21-year-old moved from Bayern Munich in the summer for £12.8m and could prove to be another extremely astute signing by the south coast side.
Hojbjerg played the ball out wide to the full-backs quickly, completing 78 out of an attempted 85 passes. He also made more attacking-third passes than anyone else on the pitch.
His sliding tackle on Rooney just before half-time showed that he is equipped defensively, although he struggled to make tackles when trying to press the opposition higher upfield – emphasised by his three fouls around the halfway line.
Overall the Dane had an impressive game, making five tackles, three interceptions and 10 ball recoveries.
4. Saints-influenced full-backs shine
Shaw looks to be nearing his best once again after being hit by two horrific injuries
It’s two years since Luke Shaw left Southampton, but the left-back had only made 22 league appearances for United before the 2016/17 campaign. Luckily for them and England he looks to be nearing his best once again after being hit by two horrific injuries.
He wasn’t the only one, with Cedric Soares and Matt Targett needing to be on top form thanks to the narrowness of Southampton’s system. United were able to double up on the full-backs, but they did well considering they were often outnumbered, even if Ibrahimovic’s first goal came from out wide.
Soares completed all four of his attempted tackles and recovered possession eight times, while Targett made seven of an attempted eight tackles and was only outpassed by Pogba and Hojbjerg. Southampton’s width will naturally come from their full-backs, although both players need to work on the accuracy of their crosses.
They ventured forward regularly, but only found their targets three times from a possible 12 efforts. Nathan Redmond and Shane Long aren’t particularly adept in the air, and the team’s crossing will likely improve when Charlie Austin comes back for good.
5. Puel’s diamond makes sense in theory
Southampton’s new manager used a 4-3-1-2 formation for the second game in a row and his team started the game brightly. The injury inside 10 minutes to Oriol Romeu didn’t help Puel, but the energy of both Hojbjerg and Steven Davis meant that it didn’t disrupt them too much.
Dusan Tadic initially threatened at the tip of the diamond, with Redmond and Long alternating between coming short and running into the channels. United often had four players centrally with Rooney dropping into midfield at times and Mata moving laterally.
However, Pogba’s ability to take players out of the game with his strength and drive in possession meant that it had little effect on a number of occasions. “It’s important to take confidence from our game; it’s not the system that’s the most important to us, it’s the players,” Puel noted after the match.
The good news for the Frenchman is that he won’t face his countryman Pogba every week. Oh, and Mauricio Pochettino also lost at Old Trafford in his second game in charge of Southampton.