Man United put Fenerbahçe to the sword after slow start
Pogba scores twice while van Persie grabs late consolation on Old Trafford return
Paul Pogba scored twice as Manchester United routed Fenerbahçe 4-1 at Old Trafford. Photograph: Reuters
For Manchester United, this was precisely the kind of night they wanted before Sunday’s assignment at Chelsea and all the drama that will inevitably attach itself to José Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge. Fenerbahce were certainly obliging opponents for a team that did not want to over-exert themselves and the home crowd could even afford Robin van Persie a standing ovation after the late reminder of his scoring prowess.
Mourinho’s team scored all their goals between the 31st and 48th minutes, starting with a penalty apiece for Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, and either side of that period they did not really have to extend themselves too greatly. Pogba went on to score a sumptuous second goal, possibly his finest moment yet in United’s colours, and the home side were entitled to ease up after Jesse Lingard completed that four-goal blitz. Had they not been so restrained, there was always the sense they could add more against a side that have won only two of their opening seven league matches in Turkey this season.
Instead, the most heart-warming moment of the night came six minutes from the end when Van Persie turned in a left-wing cross before raising his arm to take in the crowd’s acclaim. Van Persie had been serenaded throughout the night and it is also worth noting the way the crowd showed their appreciation for Wayne Rooney, starting for the first time in five matches.
Rooney’s appearance revived memories of happier times for the England captain and that exhilarating night, in September 2004, when he made his United debut against the same opposition, scoring a hat-trick in a 6-2 win. Twelve years on, this was a more sedate performance from the club’s longest-serving player, and something has clearly changed given that this season Mourinho announced Rooney, Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would share penalty-taking duties.
Pogba got his turn after Simon Kjaer bundled over Juan Mata and the world’s most expensive footballer aimed a precise finish into the corner. Yet it was Martial who picked up the ball three minutes later despite the crowd chanting Rooney’s name. Martial had been brought down by Sener Ozbayraki as he surged into the penalty area. The Frenchman aimed for the same side as Pogba and Rooney, needing three goals to move alongside Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s all-time record scorer, was not given the opportunity to pull one closer to the target of 249.
Rooney, one imagines, might be more perturbed by the suspicion his appearance indicates he will be back on the bench at Stamford Bridge and Ibrahimovic will come back into the starting line-up. Rooney was, however, prominently involved during that 15-minute spell at the end of the first half when United put themselves in a commanding position they were never likely to relinquish.
The defending for the two penalties was certainly poor, to say the least, but Pogba’s second goal was a beauty. Rooney started the move on the right, clipping the ball infield where Lingard’s flick gave Pogba the chance to take aim. Striding towards the ball, he went for the top corner and scored with a lovely, arcing finish from just outside the penalty area.
Mourinho had made seven changes from the goalless draw against Liverpool three nights earlier but it was still a surprise, perhaps, that Pogba started the match, and likewise that Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling were not rested, given this weekend’s fixture.
It was the front of his team where Mourinho shifted everything around, with Martial and Lingard operating on the flanks and Mata patrolling the space behind Rooney. Mourinho started heading to the tunnel for the half-time break as soon as United’s third goal went in and when the team came back out Smalling had been replaced by Marcos Rojo, with Sunday plainly in mind. The night had turned into a damage-limitation exercise for Dick Advocaat’s team and there was a telling moment five minutes into the second half when Luke Shaw came to take a throw-in near the technical area and received a hug from his manager.
By that stage Lingard had finished another neat passing exchange involving Pogba and Rooney with a crisp 25-yard drive. Lingard struck his shot with a mix of power and precision and those were the moments when it was tempting to wonder what must have been going through Sam Allardyce’s mind.
Allardyce was attending his first match since his unceremonious departure as England manager. He was beside Sir Alex Ferguson and a few seats away from David Gill, one of the Football Association executives who appointed him, watching a performance in which all of United’s English players – Michael Carrick included – helped demonstrate the home side’s superiority.