Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw silence the critics in Man United's season-opening win vs. Leicester
MANCHESTER, England -- Three points from Old Trafford on Manchester United's 2-1 win over Leicester City to open up the 2018-19 Premier League season.
1. All right on the night for Mourinho
There are few better ways to dissolve a month of negativity than a goal after three minutes and a win to start your season.
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United got both in their opener against Leicester at Old Trafford and, for a week at least, the storm clouds around Old Trafford will lift.
It has been a tough preseason -- Mourinho's words -- and he has predicted a "difficult" campaign for his team after the transfer deadline came and went on Thursday with no new arrivals to add to Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant.
But for the 90 minutes, the 74,439 fans inside the stadium were reminded that this is still a very good squad.
Captain for the night Paul Pogba, back at the club as a World Cup winner, scored an early penalty after Daniel Amartey handled a shot from Alexis Sanchez -- another standout player in this team -- after just 77 seconds.
Eric Bailly put in the kind of performance that made you wonder why Mourinho was so desperate to sign another centre-back in the first place. Andreas Pereira, the best player during the tour of the U.S., was calm and composed in the No. 6 role on his full Premier League debut.
Even Luke Shaw, criticised more than most by his manager over the last two years, got in on the act, scoring his first senior goal seven minutes from time to prompt an animated celebration from Mourinho and wrap up the points.
Outside of their late goal, Leicester had a lot of the ball but only two real chances, from James Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho either side of half-time, and both were saved by David De Gea. He looks to be over his troubled World Cup already. Even Jamie Vardy's customary goal against the top-six, deep into stoppage time, couldn't dent the optimism. After a summer of warnings from Mourinho, it was all right on the night.
2. Pogba steals the show
Just 26 days after lifting the World Cup in Moscow, Paul Pogba was pressed back into action. It might have been because he trained so well in the four days since returning to Carrington that Mourinho could not leave him out.
It may have been because of injuries to Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera. Whatever the reason, the Frenchman took his chance to show that his best performances are not limited to Russia.
It was significant that, at the end of a week that has seen stories of Pogba's unhappiness at Old Trafford, he was named captain against Leicester. He has done it before -- this was his eighth time since returning from Juventus in 2016 -- but none of those felt as well-timed as this. It was perhaps a show of faith by Mourinho, who has been critical of the midfielder this summer.
If it was, Pogba paid back his manager within three minutes -- first flicking a raking 30-yard pass out to Matteo Darmian on the right and then tip-toeing up to smash a penalty past Kasper Schmeichel. The run-up looked comical, but the finish was anything but.
There was still the odd moment that frustrated Mourinho. Occasionally he was guilty of letting Leicester runners disappear behind him and, once or twice, losing the ball on the edge of his box. Still, it was a display to suggest this could be his season in the same way he left his mark on the World Cup.
3. Maddison, Leicester aiming to be best of the rest
The Leicester fans in the corner of Old Trafford spent most of the night singing "champions of England, more recent than you" at the United supporters. They will live off that 2015-16 season for a lifetime and rightly so. And while many who made the trip up to Manchester on a Friday night will accept it will probably never happen again, it has re-set expectations at the King Power Stadium. Winning the title isn't the goal, but finishing 17th and avoiding the drop shouldn't be, either. It is a new era.
The title-winning team has all but broken up and in their place are players like the 21-year-old Maddison, signed for £20 million from Norwich in the summer. He looked the part on his Premier League debut. Leicester now haven't won a Premier League game at Old Trafford since February 1998 and haven't started a top-flight campaign with an away win since beating Aston Villa in 1933.
Their season will not be defined by losing at Old Trafford in August, but there was enough here to suggest they should be aiming to be best of the rest behind the top six of United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal. An improvement on last season's ninth-place finish, and maybe a place in Europe, would be success.