Pogba, who was aged 11 and playing for French junior team US Roissy-en-Brie when a teenage Rooney first lit up Old Trafford in 2004, has been criticised for some below-par performances since signing from Juventus in a record €105m transfer; but not this time. He scored a decisive penalty to put United ahead and added a sublime long-range goal as Jose Mourinho’s side romped to a comfortable 4-1 victory in which Anthony Martial also scored from the spot and Jesse Lingard, whose all-round display was also excellent, grabbed another.
It gave Mourinho a significant selection headache ahead of a difficult return to Stamford Bridge on Sunday in the Premier League.
This was always going to be a testing week for United, of course, having already played Liverpool away on Monday and with that trip to Chelsea looming, so it was no real surprise to see Mourinho make seven changes, bringing in the likes of Rooney, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Lingard and Martial.
Almost all of those players, including Rooney who wasn’t spectacular but nevertheless had a hand in two goals playing up front in place of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, made a case to retain their places this weekend.
Mata, an ex-Chelsea player, was the first to make an impact, winning a penalty when he exquisitely collected an excellent pass from Carrick and was bundled over by Simon Kjaer after 30 minutes. Pogba took the penalty – emphatically – and just two minutes later Mata was at it again, this time playing a wonderful ball for Martial, who was clearly brought down by Sener. Penalty number two was converted just as convincingly by the French international.
If the first two goals were somewhat gifted by Fenerbahce’s poor defending, goal number three was far more of a team effort from the home team and one that will be remembered. With the whistle just about to go for half-time, Rooney raced down the right and drilled a ball across the box for Lingard. His perfect lay-off was curled home sumptuously from the edge of the box by a delighted Pogba. Cue a trademark dance routine between the goalscorer and his assistant.
Lingard soon enjoyed a moment of his own a couple of minutes into the second half.. This time Pogba won the ball on halfway, found Rooney with his back to goal and the captain cleverly set up his young England teammate to score clinically from 18m.
Time, of course, for another Pogba-Lingard routine as Rooney, now the old man of the side at the age of 31 next Monday, looked on like a bemused father watching his five-year-old breakdance.
Pogba, only 23, was given a standing ovation by the Old Trafford crowd when substituted in the 74th minute, but Rooney, perhaps relishing his role as older statesman, stayed on to see out a comfortable victory which moves them up to second in Group A in the Europa League.
Fenerbahce, who fielded former United hero Robin van Persie (given a rousing reception by United fans) didn’t put up too much of a fight, other than a first-half effort from Souza which was well saved by the ever-reliable David de Gea. In fact, United were such convincing winners that fans even cheered to the rafters when van Persie grabbed a trademark close-range goal with seven minutes to go. A classic moment.
It showed that the loss of a clean sheet barely mattered. What mattered was that with a group of talented young players who have not been first choice this season, United had done a decent job. Oh, and one rather older performer didn’t do too badly, even though it felt very different 12 years ago.
The Special One’s team selection for an emotional return to Stamford Bridge is going to be very interesting indeed.
De Gea 7; Darmian 7, Smalling 6 (Rojo 46), Bailly 6, Shaw 6; Carrick 7, Pogba 8 (Fosu-Mensah 74; 6) Mata 7, Rooney 7, Lingard 8 (Depay 66); Martial 7.
Demirel 6, Sener 5, Skrtel 6, Kjaer 5. (Emenike 45; 6), Kaldirim 6, Souza 7, Topal 6, Neustadter 6, Potuk 6, Volkan 6 (Koybasi 69; 6), van Persie 6.