Zlatan scores 2, Pogba stars as United beats Southampton 2-0
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 20, 2016 09:55 AM
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahiovic, right, scores a penalty during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice and Paul Pogba excelled in his first game back at Manchester United as the team's high-profile offseason signings starred in a 2-0 win over Southampton in the Premier League on Friday.
The good times appear to be back at Old Trafford, with Ibrahimovic's towering header in the 36th minute and penalty in the 52nd earning United a second straight victory to open the league season under new manager Jose Mourinho.
Ibrahimovic has already scored three league goals, to complement his winner in the Community Shield against Leicester. As pleasing to Mourinho was the way Pogba slotted into the side in his first appearance since a world-record $116 million transfer, displaying his range of tricks, vision, athleticism and box-to-box energy.
Pogba lasted the full game, despite having not played since France's loss to Portugal in the European Championship final on July 10. He could even have scored in injury time when he sprinted the length of the field to follow a counter-attack, and shot just wide.
"You can see even more the ego, the personality; he is so comfortable in the skin of a star," Mourinho said. "For 10 days' work, first match of the season, not even 10 minutes of a friendly, I think he played phenomenal."
Having missed United's 3-1 win at Bournemouth last weekend, Pogba was given a warm reception in his first game in the famous red of United at Old Trafford since a substitute appearance against West Bromwich Albion in March, 2012. He was a lanky, raw 19-year-old then; he returns to United as a powerfully built star of world football.
After two forgettable initial touches around 15 seconds into the game — he miscontrolled a short pass, then hacked at thin air as he scrambled to recover possession — Pogba showed just why United went to such lengths to sign him from Juventus.
One jinking run past three Southampton players and to the edge of the visitors' box just before halftime had the Old Trafford faithful purring, as did a shimmy early in the second half that left his marker on his backside. United fans roared with delight at many of his sublime touches and runs, with Pogba growing stronger as the game went on.
"I came back home," said Pogba, who was sold by United for virtually nothing in 2012 after making just seven substitute appearances in three years at the club. "I am very happy for the team. I hope to continue like this and get better and keep winning."
The expensive midfielder already looking settled; the star striker scoring with ease; Wayne Rooney seemingly revitalized. These are exciting times at United after three lean years since Alex Ferguson's retirement.
Ibrahimovic's first goal owed as much to Rooney's excellent cross as the Swedish striker's bullet header. The Swedish striker was surrounded by defenders but rose highest to meet Rooney's right-wing delivery and direct a header back into the corner.
Ibrahimovic then converted a penalty after left back Luke Shaw was tripped by substitute Jordy Clasie as he surged into the Southampton area. There didn't seem any hesitation when Ibrahimovic took the ball and placed it on the spot, and Mourinho confirmed after the match that the striker had replaced Rooney as United's first-choice penalty-taker.
It's early days but United already looks to have that menace and fear factor about them under Mourinho, who has spent around $200 million this offseason to revive the fortunes of a fallen giant.
"It is like a big puzzle," Ibrahimovic said. "We need to put the puzzle together and then work on it."
This was the first of a string of regular Friday night games in the Premier League, a new addition to the schedule this season.