For the first 35 minutes on Wednesday, Manchester United appeared hell-bent on delivering another performance like the ones which saw them eliminated from the Champions League last season against Sevilla.
The Frenchman turned in a wonderful individual display just when United needed him most, as his two goals and one assist led them to a 3-0 win in Bern
While Young Boys are opponents of lesser esteem, they too were able to pick apart Jose Mourinho’s side and get dangerous balls into the box. And, just like Sevilla, they were winning some key midfield battles while also doing enough to ensure United had little to offer in attack.
But this time around United had Paul Pogba at the top of his form.
Unlike in the spring when his difficulties with Jose Mourinho first came to the surface and he was subsequently left on the bench for both legs of the round of 16 elimination, the Frenchman was on hand in Bern to lift United out of their stupor and deliver the moment of quality which tilted the match their way.
The 3-0 win which has got Mourinho’s side off to the perfect start in their Group H campaign looked far from likely until Pogba picked up the ball 10 yards outside the Young Boys’ area.
He nudged the ball in to Fred, hoping for a return that eventually came via a Swiss foot, then strode onto the pass, glided onto his left and arrowed the kind of shot in the top corner that many of us can only dream of scoring with our good foot, let alone our wrong one.
It was the intervention of a world-record transfer, the act of a leader. For many onlookers, Pogba hasn’t looked enough like either in the two years since he returned to Old Trafford, but there can be no doubt that he ticked both boxes on this night.
He would put the game beyond reasonable doubt shortly after, tip-toeing his way to the ball and firing into the top corner from the penalty spot after Kevin Mbabu had been harshly penalised for a handball offence from Luke Shaw’s clever first-time cross from the left.
Pogba wasn’t done there either. Just as Young Boys began to pick up the tempo again midway through the second half in the hope that there might still be something in the game for them, the World Cup winner picked the ball up and ran at their back line.
With the home defence back-pedalling, he teed up Anthony Martial and the winger sent the ball past David von Ballmoos via a deflection off the covering Mohamed Ali Camara.
So often in such games away from home in Europe it takes a professional team performance to get the job done, but here Pogba had done so much of it by himself amid an often ragged display for those elsewhere in red.
His final personal tally before being replaced by Andreas Pereira for the final 15 minutes was two goals and an assist, and it was achieved with the attitude to match the armband on his left sleeve.
While Diogo Dalot put in a promising shift in his United debut in place of Antonio Valencia, it was the stand-in skipper who was destined to provide the decisive showing as United took three vital points from a tricky fixture in a difficult group.
Valencia and Juventus will not exactly be quaking in their boots on the strength of this match, but they won’t be looking forward to coming up against Pogba on this form.