Manchester United has already made a strong start to life under Jose Mourinho, claiming the Community Shield and a convincing win to start the Premier League season. And Old Trafford could be buzzing with extra excitement on Friday, with Paul Pogba in contention to make his first appearance since completing his return to Manchester United for a world record transfer fee.
Pogba was forced to sit on the sidelines for United's opening 3-1 win at Bournemouth due to a suspension picked up at the tail-end of last season when still at Juventus. Despite going all the way to the final of Euro 2016 and only completing his protracted transfer last week, he has declared himself ready and available for United's home bow this season against Southampton in the first match in the Premier League's new Friday night slot.
“You have to ask the manager but I feel very good and have been training for 10 days,” the 23-year-old said. “I am okay.
“I am quite used to this. I played the World Cup two years ago when at Juve and three years ago I was at the Under-20 World Cup as well. So I am okay. It is about your body and I have been training on my holidays.”
If Pogba does take the field, it will represent his eighth appearance for Manchester United, a full four-and-a-half years since he made his last outing. In that time he has gone away and become one of the world's best midfielders and one who has the potential to become a true great.
There is plenty of debate about the reasons for Pogba's departure from Old Trafford, but it seems clear that then manager Sir Alex Ferguson failed to do enough to persuade him to stay. And United has paid the consequences for that, with the center of its midfield a glaring weakness for far too long.
Much of the fault for that falls at the club's failure to punch its weight as one of the richest clubs in the world in Ferguson's latter years and the hapless transfer market bungling under executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. In contrast, Jose Mourinho instantly signaled that he would be far more decisive in getting the squad he believes can make the club champions once again.
And that is already paying dividends. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has provided a presence and goal-scoring threat leading the line that United simply didn't have last season. He may be 34 years old, but with a winning goal in the Community Shield and an emphatic strike against Bournemouth he has suggested he can still more than cut it in the Premier League. At the other end of the pitch, Eric Bailly has thus far slotted in seamlessly, displaying raw athletic skills as well as impressive composure for a player of limited top-level experience.
And there could yet be more to come. As well as Pogba's insertion into the lineup, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was limited to just a substitute appearance at Bournemouth and could make his full debut on Friday. Meanwhile, reports persist that Mourinho is targeting another central defender, with a man United will come up against on Friday believed to be his top choice.
Were United to land Portuguese Euro 2016 winner Jose Fonte it would only further demonstrate the gulf between the two clubs in the transfer market. While Manchester United under Mourinho has gone out and cherry picked the pieces to make the squad stronger, Southampton has for the past several summers had to react to the loss of key players and immediately build again.
It is a testament to the infrastructure and personnel at St. Mary's that Southampton has continued to thrive in that time. Indeed, last season it finished only three points and a single place behind Manchester United in the table.
Again it is looking to counter the doubters after a summer in which it lost manager Ronald Koeman and key players Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama. It is now the job of French coach Claude Puel, who led Nice to an impressive fourth place finish in Ligue Un last season, to quickly integrate himself and the new signings into the club.
One of those summer arrivals made an impressive first outing on Saturday, with Nathan Redmond scoring to earn a point in a 1-1 draw with Watford. Fonte was an unused substitute in that match as he gets back up to speed following his exertions at Euro 2016. Whether he will feature at Old Trafford, in what could well be a uneasy situation for all involved, remains to be seen.
Prediction: Manchester United haven't looked exactly free-flowing yet under Mourinho, and, while the Portuguese is not known for producing the most attractive teams, it is clear his new side remains a work in progress. Pogba will certainly help that process along, but it is perhaps unlikely that he will be thrown straight into the starting lineup. Yet with the greater cutting edge in the team, aided in no small part by Ibrahimovic, United should get a win over a Southampton team that still needs work after its summer departures.
Predicted Score: Manchester United 2-0 Southampton
Kickoff Time: Friday, 3 p.m. EDT.