What positives can be taken from Manchester United's early season form?
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.
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.
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.
Marcus Rashford’s game by numbers vs. Leicester:
2 chances created
His turn for a cameo role. pic.twitter.com/cbQwOBsu6z
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 26, 2017
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.
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.
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