Paul Pogba repaid some of his world record transfer fee with two goals as Manchester United rediscovered their early-season shine, cruising to a 4-1 Europa League win over Fenerbahce to go top of their group on Thursday.
Pogba scored a penalty and rifled United’s third into the top corner. Anthony Martial also netted from the spot and Jesse Lingard fired home in the second half before former Old Trafford favourite Robin van Persie pulled one back for Fenerbahce.
Inter Milan and AS Roma, though, had more testing evenings. Coach Frank de Boer breathed a sigh of relief when Inter survived an onslaught from Southampton to end a three-match losing streak with a 1-0 victory while Roma conceded twice late on to draw 3-3 at home to Austria Vienna.
Three sides have perfect records after three matches, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke 04 and Zenit St Petersburg all winning to move to the brink of the knockout rounds.
United have six points in Group A after a morale-boosting performance ahead of manager Jose Mourinho’s return to former club Chelsea on Sunday. They went ahead in the 31st minute when Juan Mata was tripped in the area.
Regular penalty taker Wayne Rooney was on the pitch and needed one goal to join Ruud van Nistelrooy as United’s all-time top scorer in Europe but Pogba took the ball and converted from the spot.
The hosts were handed a second penalty less than three minutes later and Martial took responsibility this time before Pogba lashed home a third goal.
Lingard made it 4-0 three minutes after the restart and Van Persie pulled one back for the Turkish team with seven minutes remaining.
Pogba, criticised following a subdued display in United’s goalless draw at Liverpool on Monday, was handed a vote of confidence by Mourinho after scoring twice in a game for the first time in almost two years.
“He needs time,” the coach said of the midfielder he signed for 89 million pounds ($109.04 million) in the close season.
“To be in Italy for four or five years … I was not expecting it to be a click of the fingers for intensity.”
The pressure had been mounting on Inter boss De Boer after a woeful start to the season that left them 11th in Serie A and point-less in Europe.
After successive Group K defeats, De Boer’s possession-based style had come under the microscope and they looked a struggling side as Southampton created a string of good chances.
Just as the Premier League club were cranking up the heat, however, Antonio Candreva swept the ball home in the 67th minute. Marcelo Brozovic was sent off late in the tie but Inter managed to hold on.
Roma captain Francesco Totti made his 100th European appearance for the club at home to Austria Vienna but his night was marred as the visitors fought back from 3-1 down to snatch a point.
Two goals from Roma’s Stephan El Shaarawy cancelled out Raphael Holzhauser’s early opener and when Totti laid on his second assist for Alessandro Florenzi to volley the ball in, the hosts looked home and dry.
But substitute Dominik Prokop and Olarenwaju Kayode scored in quick succession to grab a share of the spoils in Group E.
Rampant Shakhtar thrashed Belgian side Gent 5-0 in Group H and Schalke edged past Krasnodar 1-0 thanks to an early goal from Yevhen Konoplyanka in Group I.
Zenit were in a spot of bother when they fell behind against Irish side Dundalk but goals from Robert Mak and Brazilian Giuliano clinched a 2-1 triumph, their third straight victory in Group D.
Four-times European champions Ajax Amsterdam saw their 100 percent start in Group G halted by Celta Vigo after a 2-2 draw in Spain.