The returning Paul Pogba inspired Manchester United with a goal and an assist as the Reds came from behind to beat Newcastle United 4-1 under the bright lights of Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho admitted before the match that his side had missed the influence of his big stars and Pogba, who had been absent since the opening Champions League match against Basel on 12 September, played a pivotal role throughout.
He first set up Anthony Martial’s leveller after the Reds fell behind early to a Dwight Gayle strike. Chris Smalling turned it around seconds before half-time, heading in Ashley Young’s cross, before Pogba put the game to bed with a second-half tap-in.
Romelu Lukaku then grabbed his first Reds goal in eight games late on, smashing in the fourth of the night, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his long-awaited return to action with 13 minutes to go, to the delight of the Old Trafford crowd.
As well as Pogba and Ibrahimovic, Mourinho had the luxury of recalling Marcos Rojo to the matchday squad after he had recovered from his long-term injury and took his place on the Reds’ substitutes bench.
The first chance of the game fell to Lukaku, who latched onto Antonio Valencia’s low, front-post cross, but he fired over from five yards.
Before this game, the Reds were the only side in the five major European leagues yet to concede a top-flight goal at home this season, but that record was ended as Newcastle took a shock lead. DeAndre Yedlin beat Young to the byline and pulled the ball back for the arriving Gayle, who capitalised on a Victor Lindelof slip to fire low past David De Gea, via help from the post.
Yedlin nearly doubled Newcastle’s lead five minutes later but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.
That seemed to wake Mourinho’s men up and Lukaku could have levelled the game, but he headed Lindelof’s expert long ball over the bar.
United continued to probe and were back on level terms through Martial’s seventh of the season; he headed past Rob Elliot at the back post following fantastic skill and a stand-up cross by that man Pogba.
Lukaku then had a shout for a penalty waved away but, with the next attack, the Reds had turned it around. Young whipped in a dangerous in-swinging cross, which was met by the towering leap of Smalling, who headed in his first goal of the season via the outstretched leg of Elliot.
The Magpies were close to being level seconds later as Isaac Hayden’s shot was saved by De Gea, before Matt Ritchie’s rebound deflected off Gayle and, fortunately for United, evaded the post.
United started the second half much brighter than they did the first and it didn’t take long to end the game as a contest, as Pogba grabbed the goal his performance deserved. Lukaku was sent free down the left and he crossed for Marcus Rashford, who in turn headed across goal for United’s no.6 to tap home from a couple of yards out.
Lukaku so nearly played in Rashford for the fourth but his pass was too strong, as the Reds brimmed with confidence. Newcastle did threaten at the other end as Murphy’s 35-yard curler was brilliantly tipped over by De Gea.
Pogba, who was given a standing ovation as he left the field on 70 minutes, watched on as Lukaku re-discovered his goalscoring touch for United. The Belgian, fresh from becoming Belgium’s all-time record scorer, cut inside and played a neat one-two with Juan Mata, before smashing past Elliot into the roof of the net.
A second standing ovation of the night was given to United’s new no.10, Ibrahimovic, who replaced Martial in the final quarter-hour. The big Swede’s every touch was rejoiced as he looked to pick up where Pogba left off and so nearly got in on the act with an acrobatic bicycle kick, which Elliot tipped wide.
It was a near-perfect night for Mourinho and United, who are now unbeaten in 37 consecutive fixtures at Old Trafford, but it’s the returning Pogba who will grab the headlines.
United: De Gea; Valencia (c), Lindelof, Smalling, Young; Matic, Pogba (Fellaini 70), Mata (Herrera 83), Rashford, Martial (Ibrahimovic 77), Lukaku.
Subs not used: Romero, Rojo, Shaw, Lingard.
Newcastle: Elliot, Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo, Ritchie (Aarons 66), Hayden, Shelvey (c), Murphy, Gayle (Diame 77), Joselu (Mitrovic 72).
Subs not used: Darlow, Gamez, Mbemba, Perez.
#POGBACK WITH A BANG
Pogba picked up where he left off before his unlucky injury lay-off, scoring on his return as well as setting up Martial’s leveller with an expert cross. Aside from the key influences on the scoreline, Pogba dominated the midfield, showcasing his array of passing, and added the energy missed in recent weeks. He was quite rightly afforded rapturous applause as he departed on 70 minutes.
UNITED’S NEW NO.10
Pogba wasn’t the only big name to return to the United team as Ibrahimovic came on to replace Martial. His every touch was cheered as he sat in behind Lukaku and Rashford and looked to influence the game at every opportunity. A great sight to see the big man back!
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
The Reds turn their attention back to the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday as they travel to Switzerland to face FC Basel (kick off 19:45 GMT). United will secure qualification through to the knockout stages with a just a point.