Thursday 23 February 2017

Van Persie marks return but Pogba double decisive

German now the finisher instead of the supplier

Matt Gatward

'Pogba (pictured) struck the first, right-footed to Volkan Demirel’s right.' Photo: PA
'Pogba (pictured) struck the first, right-footed to Volkan Demirel’s right.' Photo: PA

There was a wonderful, sentimental moment at the end, when Robin van Persie stepped in ahead of Luke Shaw to convert a cross and put a ball into an Old Trafford net once again, while Alex Ferguson, watching with affection, smiled and clapped.

Manchester United 4 Fenerbahce 1

Van Persie underplayed the celebration out of respect for the place he this week called "home".

Paul Pogba scores the opening goal from the penalty spot
Paul Pogba scores the opening goal from the penalty spot

It didn't have the slightest significance on the course of a night on which Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba stamped their authority, easing United towards what looks like a two-way fight with Feyenoord to win Europa League Group A. But the moment was sustaining all the same.

Hard to believe that we have not even counted out 18 months since Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie last appeared on a field together, at West Brom on the day when Manchester United's 1-0 defeat was part of a deepening malaise.

It was with a mood of celebration that the Dutchman was welcomed back last night, in Fenerbahce colours, to the club he left in such a hurry, infuriated when Louis van Gaal said he had doubts and determined to take the first ticket out of town.

Spectral

But the occasion showed how quickly the flame is extinguished in a player. Rooney and van Persie both led their team's lines and were spectral figures.

Anthony Martial wins a penalty as he is brought down by Sener Ozbayrakli. Photo: Getty
Anthony Martial wins a penalty as he is brought down by Sener Ozbayrakli. Photo: Getty

Footage of the last time Rooney faced Fenerbahce was playing on a continuous loop on MUTV before the kick-off: September 2004, and that debut when he scored a hat-trick and one of the newspaper chroniclers declared of him that "the Messiah has come to Manchester".

His world has turned abruptly. This was Rooney's first United start since a League Cup tie at Northampton last month.

Jose Mourinho stationed him at centre-forward, a position he cannot conceivably hope to retain against more serious opposition.

That left him marooned between the twin pillars of Dane Simon Kjaer and a masked Martin Skrtel. There was no way over them and, on the evidence of Skrtel reaching out a foot to calmly dispossess the striker 20 minutes in, no way of accelerating around him, either.

But the 30-year-old's marginal place was most evident when two penalties were awarded in a three-minute period just after the half hour. Somehow, it seemed out of the question that Rooney would step up for either, though those two goals would have put him on the brink of history one goal behind Bobby Charlton's record tally of 248 for the club.

Pogba struck the first, right-footed to Volkan Demirel's right; Anthony Martial the second - same foot, same place. Rooney ambled up with some congratulations at 2-0 but it didn't look like his heart was in it.

It was left to others whose futures have looked in doubt to demonstrate to Mourinho that they have a little more football left in then. There certainly didn't seem much hope for Juan Mata in that respect when the new manager arrived, but he was the creator of much that was good in what United did.

The way he drew down an imperious 40-yard ball from Michael Carrick provided a moment of class missing from Monday's Chelsea-esque physical stalemate at Anfield. It drew a clumsy foul by Kjaer which brought the first penalty.

Incisive

Mata provided the incisive pass at pace which drew the second penalty, too. Martial, the recipient, was bundled down from behind by Sener Ozbayrakli.

The third goal belonged to the new guard. Rooney sent a slightly misdirected pass behind Lingard who teed it up for Pogba's 30-yard rocket on the stroke of half-time.

The Turkish side had next to nothing to offer. David de Gea was called upon rarely.

Lingard barely needed to celebrate after he had guided in a fourth from just outside the area three minutes after the break. Rooney could claim a contribution, ferrying Pogba's pass across the face of the area and into his compatriot's path.

Van Persie had done barely more than spin a shot wide before he scored, but took the applause at the end, departing to the same rendition of his name that he was treated to in the three seasons when he was celebrated here.

Rooney has given them 12 years but he is disappearing without an ounce of pity. He's played the club for new contracts twice. Supporters have long memories in these parts. (© Independent News Service)

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