With Paul Pogba putting his stamp on games and Jose Mourinho in an upbeat mood, the atmosphere around Manchester United is markedly more relaxed than it was just a few weeks ago.
United’s 3-0 win over Young Boys in the Champions League in Bern on Wednesday was not completely straightforward, with the visitors on the back foot before Pogba emerged to score twice in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
But Mourinho’s side ended up thoroughly deserving their victory against a team that had won nine out of 10 games this season and were determined to impress on their Champions League group-stage debut.
Pogba’s decisive contribution while wearing the captain’s armband also stretched to an assist for Anthony Martial’s third goal in the second half, and his performance came after he stood out on his 100th appearance for the club in last Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Watford.
“If someone asks me to do that again, I don’t think it’ll go where it did,” admitted Pogba of his terrific opening goal at the Stade de Suisse, which he followed by scoring a penalty before half-time.
“I’m very, very happy to have scored two goals and to have helped decide the game,” said the France star, who has four goals in total this season, three from the spot.
The 25-year-old has not always enjoyed a harmonious relationship with Mourinho, being routinely dropped last season.
In recent weeks, doubts have been raised about what his agent Mino Raiola might have in mind for Pogba’s future. Yet in Bern, Pogba delivered for his manager.
“I don’t think he can score goals every match, but the goal he scored today, the first goal, is not different than the fantastic save (Ben) Foster had in the last match,” Mourinho said of a player who also netted for France in the World Cup final.
“If he starts arriving in possible scoring positions that can be a plus for the team, so I am happy with that. The team had good stability in midfield, allowed him to go to these kinds of positions.”
It is now three straight wins in three away games for United, after Premier League successes at Burnley and Watford.
After speculation that he could be sacked in the wake of the 3-0 home loss to Tottenham Hotspur last month, the Portuguese’s mood has changed for the better.
He expressed delight at teenager Diogo Dalot’s debut performance at right-back, was full of praise for Luke Shaw, and left the Stade de Suisse press room joking with reporters.
“At half-time, I told the players it is the third time in a row we arrive at half-time winning 2-0 — against Burnley we didn’t finish off but we didn’t concede, against Watford we concede and we were in trouble,” he said.
Martial rounded out the win by marking his first start in a month by netting his first goal since January.
The manager added: “I think our best period was exactly the period in the second half where we scored our third goal and we killed the game.
“In the second half the players were responsible, they were ambitious, so I liked that.
“But what I like most is that after two defeats, three matches away, and three victories — I don’t say phenomenal performances but three good, solid performances, and let’s go back home Saturday.”
Wolverhampton Wanderers are up next, while United are also at home in their next Champions League game against Valencia.
A win against the Spaniards will be a big step towards the last 16 before a double-header against Juventus, as United seek to improve in Europe following last season’s exit to Sevilla in the first knockout round.
“We had a tough season in the Champions League last season — we want to do much better this season,” Pogba insisted.
Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.
“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.
“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”
With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.
There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.
That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.
South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.
“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.
Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?
Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.
England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.
Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.
Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.
The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.
Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.
South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.
Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.
“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.
But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.
While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.
The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.
First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.
But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.
The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.
Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.
Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.
Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.
More to follow