Jose Mourinho heaped praise on Paul Pogba after the midfielder dazzled on his return from injury for Manchester United.
The France international hadn’t played since suffering a hamstring injury in September, but there were no signs of rust as he ran the show in United’s 4-1 triumph over Newcastle United at Old Trafford.
Pogba provided the assist for Anthony Martial’s equaliser before tapping in his side’s third goal, helping United to leapfrog Chelsea and reclaim second place in the Premier League.
Mourinho – who revealed he allowed Pogba to decide how many minutes he played – feels the presence of the 24-year-old made a telling difference to the way the team performed, particularly in attack.
‘[Pogba was] different class. [It was] what we had in the beginning of the season with Paul and [Nemanja] Matic, growing up together and being like the engine of the team,’ the Portuguese manager told BT Sport.
‘We lost a bit of that because, while other players are good players, they have different qualities.
‘I left it in Paul’s hands as to how long he played. We made that decision [to replace him] at a good time – it was a great performance from him.’
While Pogba was replaced by Marouane Fellaini in the 70th minute, teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his comeback from a serious knee injury with a late cameo off the bench.
The Swede made his first appearance in 216 days, and after coming on in the 77th minute, nearly marked the occasion with a goal, Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot keeping out his acrobatic volley just before full-time.
‘The return of injured players is obviously nice. Especially in Zlatan’s case, it was such a dramatic injury and to see him back is a great emotion,’ Mourinho added.
Newcastle counterpart Rafael Benitez felt that conceding a second goal just before the break was crucial to his side’s chances of getting anything from the game.
The visitors had taken a shock lead in the 14th minute through Dwight Gayle, but United turned the game around with headers from Martial and Chris Smalling, who converted Ashley Young’s cross in first-half stoppage time.
‘We knew that it was important to go in [at half-time] with a draw, we were doing really well. Then obviously the second goal gave them a lift, and then it was more difficult in the second half,’ Benitez told BT Sport.
‘It’s simple and clear – when you spend so much money on players of this quality, it is to make a difference in games.
‘We know our strengths and weaknesses. Today was a game where we were doing really well, but as soon as they scored the second goal it was really difficult.’