Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Manchester United are a “different team” from the sluggish side that started the season after extending an unbeaten run to 17 games with a 3-0 win at Aston Villa.
United became the first team in Premier League history to win four consecutive games by a three-goal margin as Mason Greenwood continued his rise to stardom with another thunderous finish after Bruno Fernandes’s controversial penalty opened the scoring.
Fernandes then teed up Paul Pogba to score his first goal for over a year as United closed to within a point of the top four.
Pogba missed the majority of the season prior to the coronavirus shutdown due to injury, but his return to fitness and the January signing of Fernandes, alongside the emergence of Greenwood, have transformed United’s fortunes.
“He’s a fantastic person, fantastic player, one of the best midfielders in the world,” said Solskjaer on Pogba.
“He’s getting better and better because he’s been out for so long, which is natural.
“You can see he is enjoying himself. The team is a different team to the one he left when he was injured. The focus, the attitude, everything is miles better in that dressing room.”
The impact of the coronavirus outbreak could turn Pogba’s United career around.
Prior to the pandemic, the French World Cup winner seemed set to leave the club for the second time in his career.
But with interest from Real Madrid now unlikely to materialise this summer given the economic impact of the crisis, Solskjaer is hoping to extend Pogba’s contract beyond 2022.
Pogba, meanwhile, wants United to show their form of the last few weeks over the long haul to challenge newly-crowned champions Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League title next season.
“We are talking in training that we have to carry on, that’s what Manchester is, it is a big club and the performances the last few weeks are the standard of Manchester,” Pogba told Sky Sports.
“We didn’t win the Premier League, that’s the standard, we didn’t win anything yet so there is a lot of work to do.”
Villa’s winless run stretches to 10 games as Dean Smith’s men remain rooted in the bottom three, four points adrift of safety with just four games to go.
But Smith was furious his gameplan was undone when Fernandes won a penalty despite initiating the contact with Villa right-back Ezri Konsa as he spun just inside the area.
“It unravelled with the first goal,” said Smith. “I can understand (referee) Jon (Moss) getting it wrong but I don’t know what VAR are looking at – it’s a disgraceful decision.
“They have a screen they can go and look at it but they don’t seem to be bothered.”
Fernandes took responsibility from the spot to score his eighth goal for the club.
Greenwood scored powerfully off both feet against Bournemouth at the weekend and showed again why Solskjaer rates him among the best finishers he has ever seen by smashing home his 16th goal of the season on his supposedly weaker right foot just before the break.
United have now scored 14 goals in winning their last four league games and turned on the style after the break.
Pogba was given time to control and measure his shot from Fernandes’s cut-back to arrow the ball into the bottom corner for his first goal since April 2019.
Fernandes then teed up Martial to crash a shot off the underside of the bar and Pepe Reina denied Marcus Rashford from Pogba’s sumptuous pass in stoppage time as United had to settle for three.
“We should have won by five clear goals in all of them!” Solskjaer added when informed of his side setting a new record.