MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - After a close season in which he said he wanted to leave the club but ended up staying at Old Trafford, all eyes were on Paul Pogba as Manchester United began their Premier League campaign on Sunday.
Yet following a 4-0 home win over Chelsea, in which the French midfielder set up the third and fourth goals, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was full of praise for the former Juventus star.
Pogba played in a three-man midfield operating in a relatively deep role where he was penned back by Chelsea in the first half and struggled at times with his passing.
But after the break, Pogba showed his quality with a superb through ball to Marcus Rashford to score the third and then led a counter-attack himself to set up Dan James for the fourth.
“He’s a top, top lad and such a pro and loves playing football and when he gets onto that pitch or behind closed doors, he grows more here (at Old Trafford), he’s a World Cup winner,” said Solskjaer.
“He’s come so far in his career and there’s no point letting yourself down. He lost it a couple of times but that doesn’t matter. Get on the ball and play,” he said.
The Norwegian said that he had asked Pogba, rumoured to be heading to Real Madrid or Juventus during the close season, to play a clear defensive role alongside Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira.
“Paul can do many many many jobs, he can do an attacking midfield job and today he’s more of a link player and when you’ve got (Victor) Lindelof, (Harry) Maguire and David (de Gea) at the back, they can feed Paul the ball, so he’ll get it in good positions.
“Paul can do everything a midfielder can. Today, he was asked to play that sitting role and in the first half I thought Chelsea pegged us too much back so he had to do loads of running.
“But we’re fit and he’s fit and that is a fantastic pass for the third goal and the run for the fourth, I just wanted him to go all the way,” added Solskjaer.
Though pleased with the performances of new signings Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James, Solskjaer still accepted his team remained far from the level he wants them to reach.
“This is a work in process, the boys have been excellent since July 1 and have been fit enough to implement what we wanted to,” he said.
“This is just the start. The more we get to play with each other and show we’re a team, we’ll improve.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ian Chadband