Assessing Man Utd’s home debutants: Arise, Sir Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovich: Celebrates with Paul Pogba

Zlatan & Paul Pogba: Have a good understanding

Manchester United are box office once again. Here, we assess their home debutants as they beat Southampton 2-0 to maintain their 100% Premier League record under Jose Mourinho.



Man Utd fans may have feared they’d bought a dud when Jose Mourinho hinted the club might have to bide their time before seeing the best of Ivorian defender Bailly.

However, after the £30million signing from Villarreal also drew favourable comparisons with Raphael Varane, it is already apparent United have a defender of real quality on their hands. His composure on the ball was clear to all to see and the centre-half was cool and calm both with his back to goal and with bringing the ball out of defence.

He also displayed excellent positional sense throughout and his reading of the game rarely let him down on another stellar performance for the Ivory Coast defender.

Very rarely did Saints get in behind Bailly, and when they did, he showed enough pace about him to get him out of trouble and make a crucial intervention.

He’s also already developed a good understanding with Daley Blind and at this stage, it looks like Chris Smalling might have a job on his hands to reclaim his place in the side next season. I blame the jellyfish!


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Paul Pogba: Impressed for Man Utd

Although strictly his second home debut, much of the focus on Friday evening was on the performance of the world’s most expensive footballer, Pogba.

And the France midfielder, sporting a bleached blonde hairdo, which suggested he isn’t short of self-confidence, put on the type of display which showed he’s not likely to be overawed by his £89million price tag.

Sitting in his deeper role alongside Marouane Fellaini, Pogba was at the heart of everything Mourinho’s side did; the midfielder showing plenty of neat touches, sharp passing, energy and an eye for a forward pass to suggest he’s very much back at home again at Old Trafford.

An £89million bargain? Far from it yet and they’ll be those who point to the player’s lack of goals and assists. But as Mourinho was at pains to point our earlier, in Pogba, Manchester United may have acquired the world’s top midfielders – and he can take plenty of confidence from his display.



Two goals on his home debut already tells you all you need to know about Zlatan, whose presence alone appears to have given the players alongside him a huge lift.

I wrote earlier this week how his aerial presence has given Man Utd’s attack a new focal point and the Swede wasted little time in underlining this point with his thumping headed opener.

That goal made it 66 in 65 club games for the evergreen forward – and he soon made it 67 with consummate ease from the penalty spot.

It’s not just his goals, however, that made this performance so eye-catching. His link-up play, his range of passing, his ability to find space, his all-round know-how could all be picked out. And you can’t help but feeling the player can get even better once he finds his feet in the English game. 

Zlatan has been tipped to make the sort of impact at Old Trafford as that great big ego before him in Eric Cantona; the two players both displaying that effortless swagger and cockiness that only a select few can pull off.

And boy, did Ibrahimovich live up to the bluster: Man of the match, 48 touches, 9.33km covered, three shots, two goals, scored in each of last eight club appearances.

Cantona’s days at United may have long since passed, but the memories very much remain. The early signs suggest Zlatan has every chance of emulating him: the King is dead; long live the King.



Mourinho has tipped the Armenian to have a big impact at Old Trafford but so far has insisted on using the player sparingly.

That trend continued on Friday night when the £26.3million summer signing from Dortmund was again benched with Juan Mata keeping his place in the side. When he did finally enter the fray in the 76th minute for Mata, Mkhitaryan showed enough neat touches, speed of thought and awareness to suggest he’ll actually be an upgrade on the Spanish star.

Quite how Mourinho keeps all the players happy remains to be seen, but on this fleeting display alone, it doesn’t look like United will have to bide their time with the player for much longer.

In a way, it’s actually very clever management from Mourinho. By the time Mkhitaryan will be given a start, he’ll have been enough of a caged animal to make the sort of impact on games he had during his time at the Westfalenstadion last term.


James Marshment


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