The second coming of Paul Pogba at Manchester United has not gone according to plan for either party.
Pogba and his agent’s continued efforts to extricate him from his second spell at Old Trafford have angered United fans, while the midfielder has fallen short of expectations on the field.
But United’s club record £89million singing provided a reminder of his enduring worth, with a stunning goal to send the Reds top of the table for the first time in two-and-a-half years.
When he is on his game, as he was here at Turf Moor, there are few more accomplished players in the world than Pogba, who ran the game and ultimately won it for United.
So often accused of laziness, it was Pogba who started the move that led to the 71st-minute winner, winning a header in midfield before applying a stunning volleyed finish to Marcus Rashford’s cross.
United’s win stretched their unbeaten league run to 11 games and put them three points clear of arch rivals and champions Liverpool, ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Anfield.
Although United went top after winning the first game of the 2018-19 season, the last time they were in first place after 17 games was December 2012, when Sir Alex Ferguson signed off with the club’s 20 league title.
Since then, United have flitted between second and seventh in the table, lacking the consistency to put together a credible title challenge – until now under former striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There is a mental resilience and fortitude about this United side that has been lacking in the post-Ferguson era, and they now have the strength in depth to suggest they can go the distance in the title race.
The game came alive with controversy at both ends in the 27 minute, when a reckless challenge from Luke Shaw left Johan Gudmundsson writhing in agony on the ground.
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Referee Kevin Friend waved play on, Fernandes finding Edinson Cavani with a long ball, the United striker scythed down by Robbie Brady as he surged towards the Burnley goal.
United expected a red card for Brady – who was subsequently shown a yellow – and a free-kick in a dangerous position.
Instead, Friend was directed, by VAR, to assess a possible red card offence committed by Shaw with the challenge on Gudmundsson.
After reviewing the pitchside monitor, Friend rescinded the yellow card he had awarded Brady and cautioned Shaw, much to the dismay of United.
The Reds suffered further frustration when Harry Maguire scored with a fine angled header, but saw the goal chalked off for climbing on Erik Pieters, a decision that looked soft.
Anthony Martial tried his luck from long-range just before half-time, Nick Pope pulling off fine save at full-stretch to turn the ball behind for a corner, as the half ended goalless.
United threatened seven minutes after the restart, a flowing move started by David De Gea and involving Pogba and Martial, ending with Cavani scuffing the ball to Pope.
Cavani then curled the ball wide as United, who had control of the game, pushed for the goal their dominance deserved.
It duly came with Pogba’s sublime finish, the goal and victory setting up Sunday’s seismic clash at Anfield, when United’s title credentials will be put to the ultimate test.