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What positives can be taken from Manchester United’s early season form?

The Boot Room

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Manchester United

Manchester United head into the first international break of the season on top of the league after three successive wins, with the latest one being a comfortable 2-0 success over Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho’s side have scored 10 goals in the process, conceding none and have clearly been the most impressive side in the Premier League at the conclusion of its first month.

After another summer of heavy spending, they have met their early season expectations and have proven their title credentials.

Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic have shown that they have drastically improved this Manchester United side that was struggling to find inspiration in attack last season, while Victor Lindelöf, who is yet to play a minute in the Premier League, will come in handy when Mourinho feels it is right to hand him his debut.

Aside from the performances and success of the new players, here are the other positives that Manchester United can take from their perfect early-season form.

Drive

The major difference between this season and last is the fact that the players are able to convert one point into three – a factor which cost them the top-four last season and probably more. United lacked the inspiration to break down defensively rigid teams and had to settle for draws in the previous campaign.

While maintaining the same patience, they are showing more desire to score, threatening teams with direct runs and risky passes throughout the game. Their willingness to wait is evident, as they have scored eight out of their ten goals in this campaign in the second half, with six of them being in the final 15 minutes.

The front four of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial are fluid in their half, with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic doing exactly what is expected of them. Last season would’ve seen them being dire as they tried to score, but this season, they are showing more drive, confidence and desire.

After Lukaku’s penalty miss against Leicester, with the score level at 0-0, they showed the mentality that makes champions to score two goals and seal the three points and it is essential that they show the same consistency later in the campaign,when the pressure is at its highest.

Their great record of scoring late in games shows that the players are in prime fitness, and that can be credited to Mourinho and his management.
Depth

Entering his second season at the club, José Mourinho now knows his side better, with the first eleven occupied with several signings that he has completed over the last two transfer windows.

This has allowed the players to more accustomed to his style and they know what is expected of them, no matter what their role is. The squad possessed by Mourinho is, on paper, the best since Sir Alex Ferguson and he has really effective options on the bench if the first eleven is unable to perform their task.

Take the competition between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial for example. In the first three games, Rashford started the first two, with Martial coming on twice in the latter stages to add some gloss to the scoreline with goals and assists in both as they take advantage of tired legs amongst the opposition.

In the third game, the most recent encounter against Leicester, it was Martial who started, with Rashford coming midway through the second half (for Juan Mata), with the score level at 0-0. In his near 30-minute cameo, he opened the scoring and paved the way for them to win the game.

In the same match, it was another substitute, Marouane Fellaini who scored the second, with Jesse Lingard (the third substitute), creating that goal. Fellaini’s goal also meant that United’s 10 goals have been scored by six different players – a stat that shows the effectiveness of those who get time on the pitch.

The squad is well-stacked, and they know their roles – just three matches in, several players are still out injured and a few haven’t played as many minutes as expected.

Luke Shaw is set to return after the international break to provide options at left-back, with Matteo Darmian being the third-choice, while the likes of Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and Andreas Pereira haven’t been given much time on the pitch, but are sure to be crucial options deeper into the season.

Attack is where they are lacking. After Romelu Lukaku, it’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic to provide depth, but he will not be back until at least December, which could result in Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial having to play there, thus reducing options on the wing. Nevertheless, it looks unlikely that they will face too much trouble between now and December.

Defence

One positive under José Mourinho over the last 15-odd months is the solidity in defence, despite having one or several players injured and being forced into constant changing.

Despite this, they have remained strong at the back and have found a new partnership in Eric Bailly and Phil Jones three games into this season.

Many expected the Ivorian to form a strong bond with new signing Victor Lindelöf, but with Jones playing the way he is, it will be hard to displace him, provided he maintains his fitness – which has been the main reason behind his lack of personal success or praise at the club so far.

The team is yet to concede this season, with both Bailly and Jones playing every minute of the season so far, putting in man-of-the-match-worthy performances each week.

They have given David de Gea an easy job in goal, and if they are able to keep this partnership consistent, success in this campaign could be a certainty. There will be stronger attacks that they have to come up against later in the season, but based on early-season form, there is lots of optimism about the potential at the back.

Together, Jones and Bailly have kept several robust and healthy forwards, including Javier Hernández and Jamie Vardy isolated, while Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind have played their roles well in keeping the wide players silent.

The Dutchman, who plays at left-back, is probably the weakest link and will struggle against higher-level opposition, and by that time, it is likely that Luke Shaw will be back in action. Nevertheless, after the first three rounds, the four have put in commendable performances.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Manchester United

“Imagine thinking Phil Jones is better”: Newcastle fans react to Jamaal Lascelles omission

Newcastle fans can’t believe Jamaal Lascelles is not going to the World Cup this summer.

Max Cohen

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Jamaal Lascelles
Photo: Getty Images

Chelsea narrowly defeated Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, thanks to Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty.

United centre-half Phil Jones conceded the spot-kick, felling the Belgian in the box and drawing the ire of Twitter in the process.

Newcastle United supporters were baffled at Jones’ poor cup final performance and criticised England manager Gareth Southgate for selecting the 26-year-old defender ahead of Jamaal Lascelles in the World Cup squad.

Against Chelsea, Jones made headlines for his high-profile mistake 20 minutes into the match.

The defender was caught flat-footed just inside his own half when Cesc Fabregas played a lofted ball in the direction of Eden Hazard.

The Belgian’s first touch was excellent and left Jones for dead, putting the Englishman on the wrong side of the ball.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Hazard then cut back across Jones, before the defender lunged into an ill-timed challenge that got nowhere near the ball.

In a cup final of such importance, mistakes such as Jones’ can prove immensely costly. And as United lost the match by the solitary goal, the centre-back’s error was devastating.

And the Manchester United defender’s poor showing incensed English supporters, who were furious at his inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man team.

In particular, Newcastle United fans felt aggrieved that Jones was selected in front of their captain Jamaal Lascelles.

Lascelles has been superb all season for the Magpies, marshaling the Newcastle defence while leading the club to an impressive tenth-placed finish.

Unlike Jones, who has been an inconsistent feature in United’s side, Lascelles featured in 33 Premier League matches this season – ten more than the United defender.

The Newcastle United faithful expressed their discontent at the England manager’s defensive team selections, arguing Lascelles would have proved a far more effective option in Russia.

And as one intrepid Twitter user noted, when Newcastle United played host to Chelsea just one week ago, Lascelles kept Hazard in check and held the Blues scoreless. Jones, on the other hand, capitulated in the face of the Belgian’s skills.

England face Belgium on 28 June in their final group stage match; Newcastle and Three Lions fans alike will be praying Phil Jones does not feature.

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Manchester United

Luke Shaw must seek Mauricio Pochettino reunion to revive floundering career

Max Cohen

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Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The latest disappointment in a dreadful season for Luke Shaw came on Wednesday, when the Manchester United defender was left out of England’s World Cup squad.

Limited to just 11 league appearances this season, amid a falling-out with Jose Mourinho, the full-back must seek a move to Tottenham Hotspur this summer and reunite with ex-Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino.

It is easy to forget that Shaw is just 22 years of age, as the left back burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old back in 2012.

Once considered one of the world’s finest young defenders, Shaw played in the 2014 World Cup for England and was signed by Manchester United for £30 million – the world record fee for a teenager at the time.

However, the Englishman’s time at Old Trafford has been a troubled one. Filled with injuries and managerial bust-ups, Shaw appears a shadow of his former self and is desperately short of confidence and playing time.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

A transfer to White Hart Lane to link up with old boss Mauricio Pochettino would be the ideal switch for the left back.

Shaw still has time on his side to revive his career, as at only 22 years old, he has many playing years in front of him.

The Argentinian would be the perfect manager to coax the best out of the fullback, due to Pochettino’s impressive knack for getting the best out of promising youngsters.

The two spent a year-and-a-half together at St. Mary’s and Shaw has since spoken glowingly about his respect and adoration for Pochettino in Guillem Balague’s book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs:

“I do hope that I can play for him again one day. And I think he really wants me to play under him again.”

In order to save his floundering career, Shaw must leave Old Trafford and make the switch to Spurs to rekindle his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino.

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English Premier League

Four Premier League ‘flops’ that have gone on to excel in Europe

There are some exceptional former Premier League disappointments now excelling abroad.

Martyn Cooke

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Flops
Photo: Getty Images

Mohammed Salah has emerged as one of the leading performers in world football this season after having an incredible debut season with Liverpool.

The 25-year-old has scored a combined total of 44 goals for club and country this campaign and was subsequently voted as both the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year.

However, it was only two years ago that Salah was being branded as a flop following a short, unsuccessful stint with Chelsea.

The Egyptian made only a handful of appearances at Stamford Bridge and had to rebuild his reputation in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma prior to emerging as one of the best players in the world this campaign.

Here, The Boot Room looks at four other Premier League flops that have rebuilt their careers in European football.

Memphis Depay

(Photo by Jeff Pachoud/Getty Images)

There was considerable excitement when Manchester United signed Dutch prodigy Memphis Depay for £31 million in the summer of 2015.

The 21-year-old had been the Eredivisie’s leading goal scorer in the previous campaign with his pace, technical ability and unpredictability helping PSV Eindhoven to a first Dutch title in almost a decade.

However, Depay failed to find his feet in England and was unable to secure regular first-team football.

His inconsistent form on the pitch was further emphasized by his reputation for being something of a flashy, egotistical playboy off it.

He was subsequently sold to Lyon for an initial fee of £16 million in January 2017 having failed to impress Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho that he was worthy of a starting role.

The Dutchman has subsequently excelled in France and has exploits have helped Lyon to qualify for the Champions League next season.

He has scored 19 times in all competitions this campaign and is one of only a handful of players who have reached double figures for both goals scored and assists this campaign.

Furthermore, now 24 years of age, Depay has also begun to mature and lose his former bad-boy image.

Andrej Kramaric

(Photo by Daniel Roland/Getty Images)

When Leicester City broke their transfer record in January 2014 to purchase Andrej Kramaric for £9 million, it was widely considered to be an excellent piece of business.

The forward had been prolific in Croatian football where he was averaging over a goal a game with Rijeka and had already secured a regular place in the international team.

All of the signs indicated that The Foxes had bought a young, prolific goal scorer.

Ultimately, Kramaric failed to replicate his previous form and had a diminutive impact at the King Power Stadium.

He started just six games for Leicester before being loaned out to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in January 2016, mid-way through Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning season, and he made the move permanent when the campaign concluded.

Now, 26 years of age, the Croatian has rediscovered his goal scoring touch in Germany netting 30 goals across all competitions over the previous two years.

He hit a hat-trick against Hannover at the end of April to fire Hoffenheim towards Champions League qualification and was hailed as a ‘top striker’ by his team-mate Havard Nordtveit.

Paulinho

(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

In the summer of 2013, Tottenham Hotspur broke their record transfer by purchasing midfielder Paulinho for a fee believed to be around £17 million.

Spurs had just sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and the Brazilian was one of a number of high profile and expensive signings that the club made as they reinvested the money.

Paulinho made a solid, if not spectacular, start to life at White Hart Lane and was a regular feature in his first season, making 30 appearances in the Premier League.

However, in the summer of 2013, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Tim Sherwood as manager and the midfielder simply never featured in the Argentinian’s plans.

He made just three starts and was subsequently sold to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande for £10 million.

It was initially thought that the Brazilian’s top flight career in Europe was over until Barcelona made the surprise move to sign him in the summer of 2017.

Paulinho has emerged as a key feature at the Nou Camp this season, making almost 50 appearances across all competitions, to help the club secure a domestic league and cup double, leaving Tottenham supporters wondering if they sold the midfielder too soon.

Iago Aspas

(Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Liverpool signed diminutive Spanish forward Iago Aspas in the summer of 2013 for a £7 million as Brendan Rodgers continued to remould the playing squad at Anfield.

The striker’s arrival was something of a surprise considering he was uncapped at international level and was not widely perceived as being a prolific goal scorer.

The Spaniard struggled to find his feet in the Premier League and made only a handful of appearances before returning to La Liga with Sevilla at the end of the campaign.

He scored only once, a solitary strike in the FA Cup against Oldham Athletic, and his most noticeable contribution was producing one of the worst corner kicks of all time against Chelsea.

However, Aspas is now flourishing with hometown club Celta Vigo and is regarding as one of the most prolific strikers in La Liga.

He has scored 21 goals across all competitions this season in 35 appearances and is the leading Spanish goalscorer across all of Europe’s top flight leagues.

He has a genuine chance of leading Spain’s forward line this summer at the World Cup.

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