Pogba scores as Man United wins Premier League opener
MANCHESTER, England — Jose Mourinho received an instant reward for handing Paul Pogba the captaincy when the World Cup-winning midfielder paved the way for Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Leicester as the English Premier League season opened on Friday.
Having returned from France’s triumph in Russia last month to intense media speculation about his future under United manager Mourinho, the 25-year-old Pogba was named skipper of a team that included debutant Fred.
After an unusual stuttering run-up that briefly gave way to jogging on the spot, Pogba rifled home the first goal from a third-minute penalty after Daniel Amartey had handled a shot from Alexis Sanchez.
The France playmaker then continued to impress as the first half wore on at Old Trafford, leading his team-mates by example.
United had several chances to extend its lead against a Leicester side that called goalkeeper David De Gea into action more often than Mourinho would have liked.
The manager, however, celebrated on the touchline after defender Luke Shaw directed home his first senior goal to put the result out of reach after an excellent through ball from Juan Mata.
Substitute Jamie Vardy pulled one back with a stoppage-time header after Ricardo Pereira’s cross came back off the post, but it was too little, too late for Leicester.
“Pogba was a monster, we thought maximum 60 minutes, he managed (more than) 80,” Mourinho said after taking his captain off late in the game. “Pre-season was very hard and we needed this fantastic spirit by the players to manage this performance and this result.
“Paul was fantastic, his contribution was amazing but the fuel was disappearing. I am (also) very pleased for Luke. He made one mistake in 90 minutes, he was very good defensively.”
Leicester looked startled by United’s early intensity but slowly began to feel its way into the match, with debutant James Maddison shining.
Demarai Gray clipped in a smart ball that Kelechi Iheanacho followed with a strike across the face of goal, before a fierce Maddison shot was stopped by De Gea.
At the other end, Andreas Pereira, making his first United appearance since February 2016, looked sharp in midfield alongside Pogba.
Matteo Darmian tested Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel at the near post early into a second half that United started with bundles of possession, but few clear-cut chances.
A good opportunity came when Pogba fed Sanchez and he set up Mata, who had a shot that was deflected just wide.
But it was far from one-way traffic. Eric Bailly did superbly to deny Iheanacho, and Vardy bundled Shaw off the ball to send in a cross that Gray almost flicked home.
It was Shaw, who just like Pogba has endured some tough times under Mourinho, who was the unlikely late hero for United.
With seven minutes remaining, he flicked the ball past a defender before sending a low left-footed strike into the net.
It was the first senior goal for former England and Southampton defender Shaw, on the 23-year-old left-back’s 141st appearance.
“It’s important to win and play well,” Mourinho said. “We must get used to teams who have players of the same quality that we have. Every team is a good team, forget the name, forget the history, forget the shirt.”
Leicester manager Claude Puel praised his players.
“It was not a good result, but it was a good performance,” Puel said. “We showed good control, good football, a lot of chances. We had chances to score in the first half. It was more difficult in the second half.”
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