MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - While Bruno Fernandes’ hat-trick grabbed the headlines in Manchester United’s opening day thrashing of Leeds United, Paul Pogba, a man much-maligned during his time in England, showed he may finally be hitting top gear after years of disappointment.
The France international orchestrated United’s victory from midfield with a sublime display, amassing four assists - one more than he managed in the Premier League in the entirety of last season.
Pogba became the seventh player in Premier League history to assist four goals in a single game in the competition, as he followed up his impressive showings at Euro 2020 for France with a match-defining contribution in front of a packed Old Trafford on Saturday.
The 28-year-old has struggled to live up to the then world record fee of 89 million pounds ($123.38 million) United paid in 2016 to bring him back to the club where he spent some of his formative years as a youth player before leaving for Juventus.
But his performance against Leeds will only act as a reminder of what he is capable of, which is encouraging and frustrating in equal measure.
“Paul’s always got that vision, he’s got that quality,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.
“I know the headlines will probably be about Bruno but it’s a team effort, the space Mason (Greenwood) creates for Bruno to open up the channels, what everyone does ahead of the goals has been worked on this week.
“Paul, I’m very impressed with his fitness levels as well, he’s not been with us for too long and he looks fit, raring to go, enjoying his football. I love seeing Paul smiling when he is playing football.”
Pogba has not always been quite so content in his surroundings.
On several occasions it appeared he would leave United, with his inconsistent form not sitting well with fans who expected more from a player with boundless natural ability.
His latest contract is due to expire at the end of the season, with reports in the English media suggesting he could join Lionel Messi at Paris St Germain before this summer’s transfer window is over.
Often deployed in one of two deeper midfield roles for United, Pogba has struggled to have an influence on games, but further forward on the left, where he has been pivotal for his national team, he can really express himself.
His pass for Fernandes’ opener was pinpoint, while the vision to pick out Greenwood to help put United back in front early in the second half after Leeds had equalised helped turn the match on its head.
The link-up with Fernandes was one fans eagerly anticipated last season, but the pair did not combine often enough. After creating two goals for his Portuguese team mate in Saturday’s curtain raiser, the early signs are good that the duo can have a fruitful campaign this time around.
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Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Christian Radnedge
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