Paul Pogba’s brilliant opening goal was the catalyst as Manchester United overcame a difficult start to beat Young Boys 3-0 in Bern in their opening Champions League game on Wednesday.
Skipper Pogba struck to cut down the Swiss champions in their prime before he then doubled United’s lead from a penalty just before the break.
The France star also set up the third goal for compatriot Anthony Martial in the second half, as Jose Mourinho’s side safely negotiated this fixture on the synthetic surface at the Stade de Suisse.
“I can understand the reasons why we didn’t start the game very well, why we took 20 to 25 minutes to be in control,” said Mourinho.
“They know how difficult it is for opponents to play on this pitch, so they force a little bit and they create some problems, but the goal changed everything and after that we were totally in control and it was nice to start with the victory.”
Of Pogba’s performance, the manager added: “If he starts arriving in possible scoring positions that can be a plus for the team, so I am happy with that.”
Seemingly a club in crisis at the end of August following their 3-0 home defeat against Tottenham Hotspur, this was United’s third straight win since then, all away from home.
Tougher tests await in Group H, though, with Valencia due at Old Trafford in a fortnight and Juventus to come after that.
“I am happy with the good solid performance of the team more than any individual,” Mourinho added.
“We knew we needed to win this match, we knew it was very important to go to the next three matches against Valencia and Juventus twice with these three points.”
There were plenty of reasons to be wary of this trip, with United having lost to Basel on their last two visits to Switzerland.
The surface here was deemed a sufficient hazard by Mourinho for him to leave Antonio Valencia out of his squad. That meant a debut for Portuguese teenager Diogo Dalot, signed in the close season from FC Porto.
“For Diogo, first match for the club after knee surgery, I think a very solid performance, everyone could see the potential, he is a 19-year-old player who has more than 10 years to play for Manchester United,” Mourinho said of his young compatriot.
This was a huge occasion for Young Boys, Swiss champions last season for the first time since 1986 and making their Champions League group stage debut.
They were driven on by an electric atmosphere generated by a crowd of over 31,000 and were the better team for 35 minutes.
With Swiss starlet Kevin Mbabu excelling from right-back, the hosts saw Guillaume Hoarau head just wide while Mohamed Ali Camara and Christian Fassnacht both tested David de Gea from range.
Marcus Rashford hit the outside of the post, but the visitors offered little until Pogba produced a moment of magic 10 minutes before the interval.
Superb footwork on the edge of the box set him up to lash a shot beyond goalkeeper David Von Ballmoos and into the roof of the net. He had his first Champions League goal since returning to Old Trafford in 2016, and it deflated the buoyant home support.
Still, Young Boys would have maintained a fighting chance had they gone in just one behind at the interval. But the decision by German referee Deniz Aytekin to award United a penalty two minutes before the break effectively killed the game.
Luke Shaw’s cross struck Mbabu’s arm from close range. It was a harsh call, and Pogba duly converted the spot-kick.
“It was quite hard for us. The referee could have decided the other way,” said Young Boys coach Gerardo Seoane.
“There was no intention from the player and it was a crucial moment in the game.” Pogba was then the architect of the visitors’ third goal midway through the second half with a driving run and pass for Martial, who marked his first start in a month by beating Von Ballmoos with the aid of a slight deflection.