Captain Paul Pogba ensures he stands out from the crowd with commanding display

Considering Jose Mourinho appeared to be engaging in a policy of calculated moroseness during pre-season, his first team sheet of the season was decorated in olive branches.

Awarding the captaincy to Paul Pogba was a demand for responsibility, an order for the captivating midfielder to merge finesse with the discipline of the France jersey rather than laissez-faire approach in United’s.

Pogba had been United’s skipper before, of course, but this felt different – a symbolic gesture after another peculiar week in the Mourinho era.
A few days ago it seemed Pogba’s agent wanted to engineer his exit. If Pep Guardiola is to be believed it was the same last January. Mourinho’s elevation of the 25-year-old suggests no-one was more resistant than the manager to a Barcelona bid.
It needed just three minutes of the Premier League season to hint at the powers of maturity an armband brings.
Pogba started like the World Cup winner he is. Whether this was the confidence discovered in Russia or the natural footballing arrogance that inspires him to ask for a ‘short back and stars’ at the barbers is a matter for debate, but the United crowd was with him as much when he perfectly timed tackles to stop counter-attacks as gliding through midfield.
Within 45 seconds Pogba was parading the skills that thrill – a gorgeous crossfield pass to Matteo Darmian effortlessly exquisite in execution.
When Daniel Amartey inexplicably handled to gift United a penalty shortly after, Pogba insisted he be given the ball. He did not so much run up to the spot as tiptoe before finding the top corner past Kasper Schmeichel.
In fairness, Pogba never looks like he is running. At his best, he struts; the contradiction is at his least effective, he also struts.
Never appearing to break sweat is a sign of class when winning, but a flaw when the manager keeps wanting more.
What Mourinho craves most from Pogba is the simplicity of passing in the right moments allied to the more cunningly, crafted attempts to cut through a defence at others. There were plenty of moments to encourage here.
Like so much of United’s play, the problem with Pogba – which is surely not entirely of his making – is you watch feeling it can be a class higher. The good stuff is spectacularly promising. You look in awe at the ease with which he moves away from a rival over the first yard, traps with his first touch and strikes a ball to seemingly land wherever he pleases with minimal back-lift. At those moments you understand the hype is justified.

He had the capacity to run this game at a whim, especially with Andreas Pereira and Fred offering midfield protection.

Yet the argument about whether Mourinho is trying to unleash or restrain him will linger. The only valid way of describing United’s default approach is weird.

The momentum of Pogba’s opening goal – and his early majesty – was a platform to terrorise Leicester. There was an instant opportunity to feed off a vibrant Old Trafford crowd which had lustily welcomed Pogba’s introduction as skipper and was buoyed by those early moments.

Instead, immediately after scoring, the counter-attacking approach kicked in. Leicester, who looked like startled bunnies when United pressed from kick-off, were invited to play.
When United rediscovered their intent in the second half, they could have scored more than a narrow win suggests.
Mourinho can argue this is not so different in philosophy to Didier Deschamps France side. They won the World Cup with an approach more Mourinho than Pep Guardiola. They still seemed more proactive than United sometimes appear, but the destructive powers in this side prove they can be more of threat than gloomier predictions claim.
Towards the end of last season, United fans and Mourinho himself seemed to be tiring of the fact every fixture was dominated by the Pogba conversation, for better and worse. Making him captain was hardly going to ensure he blended into a new campaign.
United’s success this season will again be defined by the relationship between the charismatic midfielder and his manager. This was a promising start.

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