(Photo by dimitrisvetsikas1969/Pixabay)
With his teams Round of 16 clash on a knife-edge at the San Siro, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba made his return from injury in the second half of the second leg, and within minutes had fired his team into a 1-0 lead.
While the mercurial Frenchman often frustrates fans, many of whom didn’t want to see Pogba pull on a United shirt again after his agent claimed his player should leave in the January transfer window, there is no doubt United are a better team with him on the pitch.
Bruno Fernandes, who has carried the bulk of United’s creative work while Pogba was out injured, was visibly relieved to have his partner in crime alongside him in United’s engine room for the crucial second half.
While the Europa League Round of 16 isn’t the biggest stage of all, any appearance at the San Siro is a big moment, so when Pogba rifled his shot home from close range, it seemed as if the script had been written for him – not his good friend Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the opposition dugout.
Huge Week For Manchester United
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had earlier acknowledged that it was a huge week for the club, who were following up their vital 1-0 home win over West Ham in the Premier League with this second leg tie, before facing Leicester in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
The manager was delighted with the performance, and goal, from the fit-again Pogba, and was full of praise for the influence of the Frenchman.
“I’m very happy of course. A very well-done job, because they were two very even games really. It was always going to be decided on a piece of quality, or a piece of magic from someone. A set-play maybe. Dean [Henderson] had a fantastic save towards the end from Zlatan’s [Ibrahimovic] header. It was a very good goal by Paul [Pogba]. I think we did enough to go through. We’ve come through a very difficult tie against a fantastic club and a very good team.”
“We’ve missed Paul. He’s been out for almost two months and of course any team would miss a player like Paul Pogba and he was just getting into his best form. And for us he’s going to give us a really big boost for the rest of the season. Today he made a very, very big difference for us. Technically, he’s one of the best footballers around. It was a very good slot. I’m very happy for Paul that he’s back now and the boys have done very well in the two months without him. We’ve worked hard, playing a game every three days and now we’ve added Donny, David’s back and hopefully Anthony and Edinson are back soon, so it’s looking bright.”
Another Clean Sheet
Although the goals had dried up in recent weeks, United’s defence have held their opponents at bay, giving the team confidence as they go chasing goals, such as the crucial goal in Milan.
“You give yourself a chance to win a game of football [with clean sheets]. Dean [Henderson] had a fantastic save towards the end from the big lad [Zlatan Ibrahimovic] and I’m very pleased with everyone’s defending. From the front you see Dan James, Mason [Greenwood], Marcus [Rashford] and Bruno [Fernandes] – the front four all pressing like they did. We always know that the back six, with Scott [McTominay] and Fred and the back four, always give everything,” added Solskjaer.
United Look To Take Next Step
With United knocking out AC Milan, who were arguably the favourites for the competition, they have given themselves a good chance to progress all the way to the final.
As their manager knows though, you do need a slice of luck in cup competitions…
“It’s going to be difficult, no matter what. We’ve beaten Sociedad, we’ve beaten AC Milan so we’re confident in our own ability. We know we have to turn up, we have to play well. We can’t play like we did, for spells in the first half at times in the last game against Milan, coming into it with no intensity. We've got league games, Europa League games, and we’re looking forward to it. That’s what we want. This is the only way we can improve, by getting used to winning games that matter. You’ve got to be spot on when you play in cup competitions as anything can happen. Today I thought it was a penalty for Dan James in the first five minutes or whatever it was. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Anything can happen in cup competitions, but we’re through, we’re confident and looking forward to the draw.”
“Momentum is underrated in football. When you keep winning games, you get that boost of energy, you get that feeling when you go on to the pitch. You’re more confident. If you’re losing, you’re afraid of losing again and afraid of making mistakes. This means a lot for the boys and the atmosphere is good in the dressing room. We’ve just got to recover quickly because there’s a game again on Sunday which we’re looking forward to. We’ve got a breather from the league, but it’s a big game again, a quarter-final and we dust ourselves down and go again,” concluded Solskjaer.
With one game left before the international break, full focus now turns to an away game against Leicester in an FA Cup quarter-final showdown.
Win that, and the belief will grow that United can get their hands on some silverware this year.