MANCHESTER: Four years after he left through the back door, Manchester United will roll out the red carpet for Paul Pogba’s second debut in today’s Premier League home game with Southampton.
Pogba first donned a United shirt when he came on as a half-time substitute for Ryan Giggs in a 3-0 League Cup win over Leeds United in front of 31,031 people at Elland Road in September 2011.
His return to action for the club will not be so inauspicious, after United paid Juventus a world-record £89 million to bring the French midfielder back to Old Trafford.
Pogba has not played since France’s 1-0 loss to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, and is eager to get back onto the pitch despite perhaps not being in peak physical condition. “You have to ask the manager, but I feel very good and have been training for 10 days,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
Pogba, 23, missed United’s 3-1 win at Bournemouth last Sunday due to a suspension carried over from last season’s Coppa Italia, but his lack of match fitness meant he was unlikely to have featured anyway.
Should he play from the start, United manager Jose Mourinho must decide where he is going to play.
Mourinho started the season with a 4-2-3-1 formation and Pogba is expected to take up one of the midfield berths in front of the back four, with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera occupying those roles at Bournemouth.
Victory over Southampton, in the first of 10 Friday night games in the Premier League this season, will enable United to provisionally go three points clear at the top of the table.
Southampton won 1-0 on both their most recent visits to Old Trafford, with Charlie Austin’s 87th-minute header securing victory last January, but they are also a team in transition.
Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama have left and Claude Puel has succeeded Ronald Koeman as manager.
The south-coast club, who finished one place below United in sixth last season, unveiled a new diamond midfield in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to Watford.
Dusan Tadic took up the number 10 role and winger Nathan Redmond, signed from Norwich City for a reported £10 million, played up front, crowning his debut with a volleyed second-half equaliser.
Puel has warned that Southampton’s last two results at Old Trafford will count for nothing and has warned his players not to repeat the sluggish start they produced against Watford.
“Their players have changed, their manager has changed and Southampton’s view of this team has changed,” said the former Monaco, Lyon and Nice coach. “Against Watford I didn’t like the first half because we didn’t play our game, but the second half you can see another team and we improved and played our game.”