BERN, Switzerland, Sep 19 – Paul Pogba was the driving force with a brace as Manchester United recovered from a shaky start to record an ultimately convincing 3-0 win away to Young Boys in their opening Champions League game in Bern on Wednesday.
Skipper Pogba’s superb opening goal cut down the Swiss champions in their prime, and he then doubled the English side’s lead from a penalty just before the break.
The France star also set up the third goal for compatriot Anthony Martial in the second half, as Jose Mourinho’s side safely negotiated this fixture on the synthetic surface at the Stade de Suisse.
Seemingly a club in crisis at the end of August following their 3-0 home defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, this was United’s third straight win since then, all away from home.
Tougher tests await in Group H, though, with Valencia due at Old Trafford in a fortnight and Juventus — who won 2-0 in Spain on Wednesday despite having Cristiano Ronaldo sent off — to come after that.
There were plenty of reasons to be wary of this trip, with United having lost to Basel on their last two visits to Switzerland, while Mourinho also lost in Basel with Chelsea in 2013.
Meanwhile, the surface here was deemed a sufficient hazard by Mourinho for him to leave Antonio Valencia out of his squad. That meant a debut for Portuguese teenager Diogo Dalot, signed in the close season from FC Porto.
His introduction was one of five changes made by Mourinho following the weekend win at Watford, with Martial also coming in for his first start since the defeat at Brighton a month ago.
This was not a fixture to take lightly. It was a huge occasion for Young Boys, Swiss champions last season for the first time since 1986 and making their Champions League group stage debut.
They were driven on by an electric atmosphere generated by a crowd of over 31,000 and were the better team for 35 minutes.
With Swiss starlet Kevin Mbabu a driving force from right-back, the hosts saw giant striker Guillaume Hoarau head just wide while Mohamed Ali Camara and Christian Fassnacht both tested David de Gea from range.
Marcus Rashford hit the outside of the post from a Luke Shaw cross, but the visitors were largely passive, seemingly waiting to pounce on a mistake, or for a moment of magic.
That is what happened 10 minutes before the interval as Pogba’s superb footwork on the edge of the box set him up to lash a shot beyond goalkeeper David Von Ballmoos and into the roof of the net.
He had his first Champions League goal since returning to Old Trafford in 2016, and it deflated the buoyant home support.
– Controversial penalty –
Still, Young Boys would have maintained a fighting chance had they gone in just one goal behind at the interval. But the decision by German referee Deniz Aytekin to award United a penalty two minutes before the break effectively killed the game.
Shaw’s cross struck the arm of Mbabu from close range. It was a harsh call and highlighted the absence of Video Assistant Referees in the Champions League.
Pogba converted the spot-kick, and with the home side unable to find a way back into the game after half-time, he was also the architect of the visitors’ third goal midway through the second half.
After a driving run towards the penalty box, the captain set up Martial, whose low shot beat Von Ballmoos with the aid of a slight deflection.