He outmuscles N’Golo Kanté near the touchline, brings the ball under control with his thigh, then effortlessly pushes it through a gap that is narrowing down the right-hand side. His pass finds Marcus Rashford, who has to wait for him, but does not have to wait long.
By the time David Luiz even begins to consider closing Rashford down, Paul Pogba is already anticipating the perfectly-judged cross that his team-mate about to deliver, already timing his run into the area, already on his way to scoring Manchester United’s second.
The entire passage of play from winning the ball on the halfway line to heading past Kepa Arrizabalaga takes just eight seconds. Later, while speaking in front of television cameras, Pogba summed up his return to form in even fewer words. “He trusts us and we trust him.”
The ‘he’ in that sentence is of course Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose unlikely rehabilitation of Manchester United continues apace after travelling to Stamford Bridge and eliminating Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea at the fifth round of the FA Cup.
After last week’s defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, some asked whether United’s resurgence would suddenly lose all momentum. Earlier this season, this same group of players would suffer one setback then spiral into another.
But on Monday night, United responded to the first significant disappointment of Solskjaer’s caretaker spell by turning in their most accomplished and tactically-astute performance under the Norwegian to date.
It would be wrong for United fans to get too carried away. This beleaguered Chelsea side, straining under the weight of Sarri’s instructions, was there for the taking. The victory does not answer questions raised by the Champions League humbling last week either.
But it does suggest that Solskjaer has inspired a confidence within these players that cannot be broken by one defeat. There is now a conviction about United, as if they know they are on the right path no matter where it twists and turns. As if they know they can make mistakes and survive them.
That much is evident simply by watching Pogba, their most naturally-gifted player, if not always their most consistent when it comes to the everyday and the mundane.
For example, it may surprise you to learn that man-of-the-match Pogba had the third-worst pass completion rate of all the outfield players to start at Stamford Bridge last night. He was dispossessed more than any other too, allowing himself to be tackled five times.
Another manager might mark the timestamps of these mistakes down in red pen, have them spliced together in a video package and send a email the next morning with the ‘read receipts’ switched on.
Under some coaches, the errors would become bones to pick, creases to iron out or simply ‘areas in need of improvement’, and rarely if ever accepted as part and parcel of the creative process.
But it is difficult to imagine Solskjaer poring over Pogba’s multiple stray passes or moments caught in possession this morning. It is just as hard to imagine that Pogba was concerned by those errors either when he put his head on the pillow last night.
Instead, the manager trusts his player to make mistakes and recover from them, making amends the next time. The player trusts that his manager will tolerate his errors and be given a chance to improve.
Watching Pogba’s goal again, Kanté could win the 50/50 ball. Pogba’s pass could easily be cut out. His run into the penalty area should really have been checked. The header itself is not the most powerful. In fact, it is initially saved.
There is a lot that could go wrong. But keep faith and every now and again, it goes right.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies