But a dominant performance in the 4-1 victory at Old Trafford on Thursday looks likely to inject all sorts of confidence into Jose Mourinho’s men for their key matches to come. And when it comes to players needing a little boost of adrenaline, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial perhaps required it more than most.WATCH: Paul Pogba completes brace with one-time stunner
The French pair were excellent as United took the Turkish side to the cleaners, while Jesse Lingard was similarly outstanding as he continued to justify Mourinho’s faith during a recent resurgence that has now seen the Red Devils win four and draw two of their last six games.
In a fixture that brought back memories of an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney’s stunning debut hat trick in a 6-2 Champions League win back in 2004, the skipper returned to the side after four matches out and led the line well. But it was the team’s youth that shone brightest, just as it had 12 years ago when the England star first pulled on a red shirt.
Given the $110 million millstone around his neck, Pogba is always going to be questioned at the slightest sign of a slump. Yet he proved here just what a difference-maker he can be when given the license to attack space and the confidence to use it.
He was ably assisted by Michael Carrick, whose recall did much to put United on the front foot as it dominated the midfield battle for most of the game. With the former England international dictating the pace in the center of the park, United looked like a hugely capable attacking force.
It was his wonderful pass that set up the first goal, arrowing a ball in to Juan Mata before the Spaniard was tripped by Simon Kjaer. Pogba stepped up to the spot and fired home. Within three minutes Martial was doing likewise, having himself been pulled down by Sener Ozbayrakli after another excellent angled pass into space, this time by Mata.
Pogba put the game out of Fenerbahce’s reach on the stroke of halftime after Lingard did superbly to control the ball and lay it back for his former youth-team colleague to fire an unstoppable effort past Volkan Demirel. Shortly after halftime Lingard got the goal his performance deserved with an arrowed drive from distance.
For its part Fenerbahce fizzled rather than threatened until Robin van Persie netted his storybook consolation goal that brought Old Trafford to its feet. United fans never forget their heroes, and the reverence shown to Van Persie can only make the young crop currently donning red shirts more thirsty for success.
The likes of Pogba, Martial and Lingard, with an average age of 22, will have plenty of further opportunities to prove their worth in the future, and indeed will be judged on far more critical fixtures than this one. But nights such as this can be just the confidence booster young players need, and Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge cannot come soon enough for the trio.
Ibrahimovic will doubtless come back in, and Rashford may well be recalled too, but Mourinho can now confidently claim to having an abundance of young talent ready to lead United forward.|