Ole Gunnar Solskjaer encouraged Paul Pogba to cut showboating from his game to recreate the “efficient” display that saw the Frenchman score twice for the second straight game in a 4-1 thrashing of Bournemouth at Old Trafford.
A third consecutive victory since Solskjaer took caretaker charge until the end of the season keeps United eight points adrift of Chelsea in the fight for a top-four finish.
Pogba has been key to all three wins, but this was arguably his best display as he also teed up Romelu Lukaku’s fourth goal and struck the post late on to just miss out on a first career hat-trick.
“That is a top, top performance for a midfield player because it’s all-round: work rate, dangerous in the box, no showboating. It’s touch, pass, move,” said Solskjaer.
“It’s an efficient game and Paul knows he’s at his best when it’s an efficient game.”
The change in mood around United in the 12 days since Jose Mourinho was sacked is palpable, no more so in the performances of Pogba, who was discarded from the Portuguese’s starting line-up for his final three league games in charge.
“We are Manchester United and we need to be at the top of the league. It is just a reaction of all of the players and everyone is enjoying themselves,” said Pogba.
“It is different, we still won games with the old manager but it is just a different style of playing, we are more offensive and we are creating more chances and that is how we want to play.”
United have now scored 12 times in three games under the Norwegian, but Solskjaer insisted he has just tried to instill what he learned under Alex Ferguson during 11 seasons as a player at Old Trafford.
“This is how it was. I’ve just gone about the job as I experienced it as a player, and a coach,” added Solskjaer.
“We want to go attacking. We’ve been at home two games and we have to entertain the fans. I love working with good players and good people.”
Pogba played a part in four of United’s five goals at Cardiff last weekend to get Solskjaer off to a flying start before scoring twice against Huddersfield on Boxing Day.
Solskjaer has spoken of his desire to see Pogba break into the box more regularly and he had the simplest of tasks to prod the ball into an empty net after Marcus Rashford had bewildered the Bournemouth defence.
Nathan Ake and Diego Rico were left beaten by Rashford’s combination of fleet-footed dribbling and pace before his cross perfectly picked out Pogba’s run.
Pogba then made it 2-0 with a bullet header from Ander Herrera’s cross.
Unlike Pogba, Nemanja Matic was one of Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenants but the Serbian has also epitomised the change in tack orchestrated by Solskjaer with the former Chelsea midfielder much more willing to look for a forward rather than sideways pass.
And Matic began the move for United’s third when he picked out Anthony Martial’s run and the Frenchman’s cross with the outside of his boot was turned home by Rashford.
For all the improvements of late, though, Solskjaer is still waiting for a first clean sheet since November as Ake beat Matic to power home David Brooks’s cross.
Rashford should have added to his tally when put clean through by Pogba, but didn’t get enough elevation on his attempted chip over Asmir Begovic before making way for Lukaku 20 minutes from time.
And the Belgian netted almost instantly when he squeezed the ball past Begovic on his weaker right foot from another Pogba pass.
Only the post then denied Pogba a first ever hat-trick when his low strike from the edge of the box came off the woodwork.
But United had to see out the final 11 minutes a man light after Eric Bailly needlessly lunged in on Ryan Fraser to see a straight red card. Agence France-Presse