On Paul Pogba’s big night at Old Trafford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in no mood to be upstaged, scoring twice to see off Southampton and continue his spectacular start to life at Manchester United. All the talk before the match had been of a debut for Pogba, his second to be accurate after United had paid a world record fee to buy their former player back from Juventus. But Ibrahimovic is not a man either familiar or comfortable with being anything other than the star attraction. And by the end of 90 minutes he was the talk of the town once again, netting his third and fourth goals in just his third appearance into his latest stop on his tour of Europe’s biggest clubs.
A scorer of an emphatic drive in an opening Premier League win over Bournemouth, Ibrahimovic’s opening goal against Southampton after 36 minutes mirrored his effort in the Community Shield. From Wayne Rooney’s chipped cross, no Southampton defender was up to matching the 34-year-old’s leap and Fraser Forster in goal had no chance with a header that rocketed off his forehead and down into the corner of the net.
His second goal was far more simple but dispatched with equal authority. Just as Southampton looked for a way back into the game early in the second half, Jordy Clasie, who entered the game as an early substitute for the injured Orio Romeu, lazily clipped Luke Shaw down the left side of the box when the threat was minimal. Ibrahimovic stepped up and thumped the ball low and hard into the net, sending Forster the wrong way.
It was game similar in nature to the 3-1 win at Bournemouth. While not always the most free-flowing, as Old Trafford fans will likely have to accept under Jose Mourinho, once United got in front, there was little doubt that it would go on and claim all three points. It is just one of the ways that the team even at this early stage has a look of far greater conviction about it than in the barren past three years.
Ibrahimovic has instantly provided the type of ruthless penalty-box presence that certainly wasn’t there last season. But, as well as far greater pace and urgency, the team has a swagger about it again, too, something that was so glaringly absent under both Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. An apparent belief that a goal will come, that the win will arrive, not just the hope that has pervaded since the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson.
And Pogba, who showed surprising energy levels to last the 90 minutes and improve as the game wore in his first match since France's Euro 2016 final defeat, played his part in that. There may have been one or two occasions that he was caught out by the pace of the game, but in terms of the physicality of the Premier League it was immediately apparent that there will ne no problem.
Instantly he showed the unique set of attributes, a combination of raw athletic skills merged with dazzling technical ability, that prompted United to break the transfer record to bring him back to the club. One glorious move in the first half stick out, when Pogba chipped a pass into the penalty box for Juan Mata, who flicked a sumptuous header across and Ibrahimovic rose to launch an acrobatic volley just off target.
There will be far greater tests to come, however. And one still wonders how long Juan Mata will keep his place in the team or indeed at the club, how long Mourinho can persist with Pogba and Marouane Fellaini as a midfield two, while Daley Blind’s time as a starting center-back will surely be short-lived, too.
It was evident that Southampton is still recovering from its typical high summer turnover and adapting to new manager Claude Puel. And the Frenchman’s preparations for the trip to Old Trafford, a venue where Southampton has won on its last two visits, were disrupted further by rumors linking his captain Jose Fonte with a transfer to Manchester United.
Still, Southampton caused United a fair degree of problems early on. With the pace of Shane Long and summer signing Nathan Redmond up front, the visitors looked to hit quickly on the counter attack. Taking advantage of the sort of sloppy United turnovers that Mourinho will immediately want stamped out of his side, Southampton had its openings. The best of them came when Long was played in by former Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre Emile Højbjerg, but he shot early and weakly.
Southampton, now without both Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle, ultimately proved toothless in attack. And United will now aim to make it three wins in a row to start a Premier League season for the first time in the post-Ferguson era at Hull City next Saturday.