Paul Pogba has scored four goals and assisted three in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first three games in charge.
This likely hurts Jose Mourinho more than the midfielder’s disgraceful showing away to Brighton or his comments earlier in the season that he would be fined if he spoke truthfully about he felt.
The Frenchman is finally emulating the presence he had in the France team during the World Cup. At United though, he’s playing in his preferred attacking role and the team are reaping the rewards.
To rub salt in Mourinho’s wounds, Pogba praised the new tactics employed by his replacement after the game.
“We are more offensive, that’s how we want to play,” he said after the win over Bournemouth. “We want to attack, the manager wants us to attack and that’s what we do on the pitch.”
Mourinho had excused his role in Pogba not reaching the same heights for club as he did for country because the player apparently lost his concentration easily so couldn’t maintain top level performances over the course of a season, opposed to the few weeks of an international tournament.
Pogba has been man of the match in all of the Solskjaer’s three games so far, but he will obviously have to do more than that to justify the claims from some that he is one of the best in the world in his position.
He will also have to do more than this to win back the support from all fans after the way he has behaved this season.
The fan base is split between those who have backed him all along, justifying his lacklustre displays with criticism for the manager instead. Anyone would struggle to perform for a boss who was miserable, uninspiring and who you have fallen out with.
But, there are those who felt let down by the player for allowing his difficulties with the manager to affect his performances on the pitch so dramatically. They argue he had a duty to show up for a club that paid his wages and for fans that deserved better than the way he was choosing to play.
When Pogba posted a ‘caption this’ image on the morning Mourinho was sacked, Gary Neville angrily responded with “you do one as well!”, which summed up the feeling of plenty of United supporters.
Some had sided with the manager, others with the player, but it was Pogba who won in the end.
Reports suggested one of the contributing factors to Mourinho getting sacked was key players telling Ed Woodward they would ask to leave the club if the manager stayed.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Pogba was one of those players.
While the irritation surrounding Pogba’s displays won’t be erased for all with a handful of top performances, it’s better for everyone to move on from the situation and hope the Frenchman can become the player he was billed as when making the return to Manchester in 2016.
Solskjaer appears to be the ideal manager to allow that to happen.
The new manager embraced Pogba at full-time, before walking off the pitch applauding the Stretford End, pumping his fist in the air.
“We have conversations every day talking about his strengths, what he can improve on, and how I want him to play,” Solskjaer said after the match. “He wasn’t far off playing the perfect game today. It’s not about scoring goals. When you’ve got the skills of Paul, you know that. But the way he’s working for the team, his tackling, he plays it simple, just touch-pass, touch-pass. There wasn’t anything for show. It’s just great game management.”
Playing for a manager that likes you, who wants to build the team around you, who plays to your strengths, who gives you the freedom to attack without being shackled by too many defensive responsibilities and who does nothing but praise you must, unsurprisingly, give you the confidence and motivation to play out of your skin.
Friend and fellow United academy graduate, Jesse Lingard, has spoken about how we’re seeing the old Pogba since Solskjaer’s arrival.
“Paul’s enjoying his football,” he said. “He’s playing in the role he likes to play in, just inside off the left. He has the freedom to make things happen. He has always got forward in that position and scored goals. Ole has helped him 100 per cent.
“He has given him the confidence and licence to be free and play his game and do what we know he can do. I can definitely, definitely see the Paul I used to know. I have seen him playing through the ranks and he is back to that player, the player we know.”
United are now three points behind fifth-placed Arsenal and eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Two weeks ago, those gaps were eight and 11 points. Their goal difference was zero, but now it’s nine.
Obviously, any thoughts of the title are long gone, but finishing in the top four has to be their aspiration and one that looks much more likely than when Mourinho was still around.
To leapfrog Arsenal and Chelsea is going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, but with players like Pogba in the squad, playing the way he has in recent weeks, it’s achievable.