The French World Cup winner made a spectacular comeback from injury, scoring a crucial away goal in San Siro.
Any concerns about Manchester United’s absence of Paul Pogba were dispelled within three minutes of his introduction at San Siro.
Pogba is the reason Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side is still on track for Europa League glory after an exquisite end shortly after coming off the bench at halftime in this critical last-16 second-leg tie against AC Milan.
Pogba had missed a thigh injury in the previous 10 matches and, after he limped away, they have been battling with United against Everton in the Old Trafford range.
If the Toffees win the tie, the points with Manchester City will be up to the Premier League. Yet they didn’t and now 14 points are behind them.
Their goals have been reduced to 0.7 in the previous six games, compared to 2.2 in the last 39 games. In the last six games their total goals have fallen to 0.7. Shots were as low as huge odds generated every game.
Pogba is the team’s engine; the star player who can make an impact in a flash, and he was in good form when his injury caused him to miss six weeks.
United’s midfield had struggled against Milan in the first half here, being static, losing creativity, and lacking a creative spark.
Fred and Scott McTominay lack Pogba’s passing range and, as a result, cannot control United’s attacking game from far.
It was a first-half performance that begged for the return of the France international.
Poor decision-making in the final third had cost United good chances early on. Bruno Fernandes was having an off-day and that creative hub was struggling to get going.
The lift was felt as Pogba reached the pitch of San Siro. His presence, apart from his goal, raised the show of United.
In the second half they had nine shots and three on goal, compared to just one in the first half. More strength, more threats, a touch of class, and more confidence on the part of Solskjaer who understood that they needed a target.
In his 45 minutes Pogba alternated between left wing and false 9, but also helped to track back. And United was strong defensively.
Shaw was imperious once more, and Victor Lindelof made two interceptions to keep the hosts at bay. Dean Henderson, who held his starting spot amid David de Gea’s comeback, made a vital save to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic with less than 10 minutes left.
On the eve of this major European game, Solskjaer played down the value of winning trophies. But he knows how vital silverware is for the journey of this team and for their conviction that they have the means to continue to build for larger awards.
At least the highlight for this season will remain the cup races in Leicester City, which await on the weekend in the FA Cup.
There is no excuse why Solskjaer does not want his side to take the whole path with Pogba back and shooting.