Jose Mourinho has given Paul Pogba the green light to make his second Manchester United debut against Southampton on Friday and called for the Old Trafford crowd to help turn their stadium into a fortress.
Pogba, a world record £89m summer signing from Juventus, seems likely to be used in a limited role against the Saints with his manager considering him not yet ready to complete 90 minutes.
But Mourinho is more concerned with his club’s supporters, who have earned a reputation for being subdued despite their large numbers in recent years, and wants them to help inspire his players to glory.
Mourinho said: “I think everything starts there, the relationship between the team and the fans.
“If at Old Trafford, a couple of thousand away supporters can be more noisy than 70,000, then we are in trouble, then it means there is no connection between team and supporters.
“If there is a connection, that factor being strong at home has to be back. But I think everything starts with that relationship.
“The way the team plays, the way it behaves, the mode of play. It includes the mental approach. If the fans feel that connection, they also want to “play” and if the fans “play”, there is no chance for the opponent.”
Pogba, back at the club he left four years ago, will certainly be guaranteed a rapturous welcome, given the enthusiasm with which his signing has been greeted and Mourinho has no qualms about throwing him into the Premier League’s first Friday night fixture of the season.
Manchester United’s best XI with Paul Pogba
David De Gea
Has been Manchester United’s best player for the last four or five seasons and, after having a move to Real Madrid collapse last summer he is now more important than ever. He saved United repeatedly under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and will hope under Jose Mourinho that there is less to do.
A good player whose first season at Old Trafford was badly affected by injuries, Darmian should improve next year under the guidance of Mourinho. He has played for a similarly prescriptive coach for Italy in Antonio Conte and will provide exactly what Mourinho wants in the role.
One of United’s most improved players under Louis van Gaal, he established a leadership and consistency that he had lacked before. Now he is near the peak of his powers and gives Mourinho someone to build around at the back.
The first of Mourinho’s summer signings, the £30million man from Villarreal has looked good in pre-season already. Will need to adjust to the speed of the Premier League but looks well equipped to do that and form a strong pairing with Smalling.
Had his last season ruined by a broken leg against PSV Eindhoven and without him United lacked pace and width down the left. Mourinho will like his competitive attitude and Shaw will surely feature in Sam Allardyce’s England squads soon enough.
Mourinho teams always have a midfield anchor, what he calls a ‘number 6’, and there is no-one better suited to the job at United now than Schneiderlin. Did not play as much as he should have done last year but that should change now.
The big issue for Mourinho will be where to fit in the £100million man. There will be times when he plays alongside Schneiderlin in a 4-2-3-1, when United can afford to attack more, and others where he is pushed further up with two midfielders behind him. Finding the perfect platform will be Mourinho’s hardest task.
Not the highest profile summer signing at Old Trafford but a technical wizard who excelled in his three seasons at Borussia Dortmund, which is why Arsenal wanted him too. Likelier to be on the right of a 4-2-3-1, where he will provide creativity and intelligence.
Mourinho said very clearly that Rooney will not play in midfield this season for United, so he will have to partner with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Rooney will likely start as a second striker or number 10, but has a job to prove that he is still sharp enough for the job.
Never looked weighed down by his fee last season and showed pace, class and natural calm in front of goal. Likely to continue on the left this season where he will provide pace on the break, as long as he does the defending Mourinho demands too.
One final challenge for the big Swede who has won the league everywhere else he has played. Still has incredible strength and skill, even if he will be one of the slower strikers at the top this year. Just needs to find a way to be a focal point for his team-mates.
He said: “We played with some players against Leicester with less training than Paul. We have guys coming back from the Euros and holidays, just one week training and they played against Leicester.
“Not on the top of the game, not ready for 90 minutes, but they played and performed.
“Paul is training for more than a week, 10 or 11 days, his adaptation is really easy because he is a boy from here, he knows everybody. He doesn’t need for time to adapt, just time to build his condition and his understanding in the way the team tries to play.
“I think he is ready to play. 90 minutes? I don’t believe. A super performance? I don’t believe. But to accelerate his integration in the team, for sure.”
The Southampton meeting has been given added spice by United’s interest in their defender Jose Fonte with the Saints believing United have deliberately leaked their interest ahead of the game to de-stabilise the player.
Mourinho said: “I don’t comment. I don’t care. The market is open until August 31. I keep saying I am very happy with the players I have. I don’t speak.”