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Pogba leads way as goals keep flowing

Manchester United 4 Bournemouth 1

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Paul Pogba beats Asmir Begovic to score his Manchester United second goal against Bournemouth. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Pogba beats Asmir Begovic to score his Manchester United second goal against Bournemouth. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Pogba beats Asmir Begovic to score his Manchester United second goal against Bournemouth. Photo: Getty Images

Not bad, for "a virus". Not bad, for someone "lacking character and maturity". Not bad, for a player who would no longer be at Manchester United had Jose Mourinho got his wish in the summer.

The liberation of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in the wake of Mourinho's sacking continued apace and with aplomb on an afternoon when an engrossed Old Trafford was again reminded that football played with this sort of pace, poise, purpose and freedom really can be enormous fun.

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Manchester United's interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates victory.  Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates victory. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates victory. Photo: Getty Images

Pogba was infamously branded "a virus" by Mourinho in a dressing room tirade at Southampton at the start of the month.

However, the real ailment has been swept from the building and, as United look ahead to the New Year and the hope of happier times after an energy sapping, morale-crushing 2018, this suddenly buoyant collective has not looked healthier - in body, spirit and mind - for a long time.

Three games, three wins, 12 goals - it is like a family finally being reunited at Christmas after dark, difficult times.

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Manchester United's Anthony Martial holds off Bournemouth's Steve Cook. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Anthony Martial holds off Bournemouth's Steve Cook. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Anthony Martial holds off Bournemouth's Steve Cook. Photo: Getty Images

"These lads love to play football, love to express themselves and love to play for Manchester United," said interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and every word of that was true against Bournemouth.

The gap to fourth is still eight points but Arsenal, in fifth, are now firmly within sights and, while Solskjaer and his players will have a huge amount to do in the second half of the campaign to guarantee Champions League qualification, it no longer feels like a lost cause, but an achievable mission.

Well, it does when Rashford leads the line as tirelessly as this, when Martial drifts and drives in from the channels in this way and, most certainly, when Pogba is determined to shape the game to his own will in such fashion.

For the second successive match, United's club record €105m recruit scored twice - but for Asmir Begovic tipping a shot on to a post, he would have had a hat-trick.

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Manchester United's Marcus Rashford beats Bournemouth's Jordon Ibe and Asmir Begovic with his team's third goal. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford beats Bournemouth's Jordon Ibe and Asmir Begovic with his team's third goal. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford beats Bournemouth's Jordon Ibe and Asmir Begovic with his team's third goal. Photo: Getty Images

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And, while it resembled another emphatic two fingers up to Mourinho, the Frenchman seemed to be enjoying himself far too much to give his old nemesis a moment's thought.

Hell, Pogba was so confident he would find the net again he was practising his latest daft goal celebration in the warm-up.

People tolerate that sort of thing when this is what he delivers. But then everyone was enjoying themselves, not least Rashford and Martial, and even substitute Romelu Lukaku quickly immersed himself in Solskjaer fever.

The Belgium striker had managed one goal at Old Trafford since March under Mourinho, but required less than two minutes to hit the spot for the Norwegian from Pogba's pass, albeit from an offside position.

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Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake battle for the ball. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake battle for the ball. Photo: Getty Images

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake battle for the ball. Photo: Getty Images

It was not all perfect. They do not look comfortable defending aerial balls into their box, conceding for the third successive game from a set-piece routine, and United will be without Eric Bailly for the next three matches after the Ivory Coast centre-half invited a needless red card with a reckless, two-footed challenge on Ryan Fraser in the 79th minute - a reminder that some old habits die hard.

Yet this, ultimately, was a day to savour the return of fast and furious football at Old Trafford.

The post-match debrief among fans will have made for a lot of fun, a world away from the soul-searching, head-scratching inquests that have exhausted and exasperated in equal measure this term.

Which goal was best? Is Pogba here to stay? How does Alexis Sanchez get in the side? Might Victor Lindelof have something after all, provided he can get a reliable partner?

It was 3-1 at half-time, the only blot for United coming before the interval when Nathan Ake headed home David Brooks' cross after a corner was not cleared properly.

United's goals were all minor classics, Bournemouth unable to live with their opponent's speed and movement.

Rashford was brilliant right up until his substitution to a standing ovation. He chased everything down, ran the channels and was both conjuror and predator.

He set the tone for a superb centre-forward's performance in the fourth minute, showing strength to hold off Ake and win the ball on the right touchline near the corner flag, and then pace and quick-thinking to kick the ball past the Bournemouth defender one way and zip round him on the other.

A lovely feint and shuffle of the hips that bamboozled Diego Rico followed before he had the composure to drill the ball across the six-yard box for Pogba to slide in to score.

Now that is where United want their attacking midfielder.

Pogba grabbed his second of the afternoon with another perfectly timed run.

It was a quick-fire move, United working the ball slickly from left to right via Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Ashley Young and then back to Herrera, who whipped in a first-time cross.

Begovic was caught in two minds, but Pogba was not, running to meet the ball and then rising to power it home with a fine header.

The third was a peach, too.

Matic swept a terrific ball out for Martial to chase and the France forward - back in the team after illness - dinked a sublime cross with the outside of his right boot over the top of Bournemouth's defence, to where Rashford had stolen in to steer home a beautifully cushioned volley.

This is what Manchester United are supposed to represent.

Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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