After Sunday’s embarrassing setback, Manchester United got back to winning ways on Wednesday, with Paul Pogba making a compelling argument for inclusion in this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham at Wembley.
The under-fire Frenchman had been hauled off early in the 1-0 home defeat to West Brom last time out but at Bournemouth he got back to basics to help United to a 2-0 victory.
After Jose Mourinho had warned that semi-final spots were up for grabs, Pogba delivered a composed and accomplished performance with none of the “flicks and tricks” about which his manager had complained on Sunday.
Mourinho made seven changes in total, leaving out the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, but retained the £89.5 million signing in a first XI which also featured rare starts for Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
It wasn’t exactly a run-out with the reserves but it did appear to be a mark of the manager’s desire to see Pogba turn in an improved showing before giving him the nod for Saturday’s showpiece at Wembley.
To begin with, United looked slow and disjointed, doing little to promote the notion that Mourinho was looking for a more emboldened approach to the game, but, as the first half wore on, their higher pressing game began to have an effect and space in Bournemouth territory became easier to come by for the likes of Rashford and Martial.
They took the lead through an unlikely source, although to be fair to Chris Smalling he has now netted in three straight away Premier League matches.
Having scored in the pair of 3-2 comeback victories against Crystal Palace and Manchester City, the former England centre-back finished off a wonderful move involving Pogba, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard by slotting home from six yards out.
Herrera and Pogba generally had control of the game for the most part, with the Spaniard covering plenty of ground in the midfield third and allowing Pogba to have more of a say in the Bournemouth half on the left of the central three. Of all those playing for their places in this United squad, the midfield pair were easily the most sparkling.
Pogba played a huge role in United’s clinching second goal just as Bournemouth were gearing up for a tilt at an equaliser, bursting through the left channel on the break before teeing up substitute Lukaku for a lofted left-foot finish beyond Asmir Begovic.
Just as Herrera had been to allow for Lukaku to enter the fray, Pogba was then replaced by Mourinho for the closing stages with his point having been made.
All the signs suggest that he has played his way into the side to face Spurs at the weekend in what is now the key fixture in what remains of United’s season.