Have United laid down the marker for a title challenge?
Manchester United looks all set to mount a title challenge after a dominant opening weekend display
"Attack! Attack! Attack," the Stretford End screamed as LVG's men dilly-dallied with the ball and remorselessly turned around to invite David De Gea to the passing party. Old Trafford had become Draw Trafford and the insipid football on display was slowly integrating itself as an insidious part of the footballing culture at the Theatre of Dreams. And boy O boy, you dare not let your dreams breathe the morbid air of boredom.
So Louis Van Gaal got the sack and Jose Mourinho got the job he always wanted. After a season of mixed fortunes, the Old Trafford faithful have got behind The Special One and they believe that the promised land is not too far-flung.
Those beliefs have been topped up after a stellar performance which saw the Red Devils put the hammer to the ...er, Hammers and nail them into the ground in the opening weekend of the Premier League. 4-0. As authentic as they come. As convincing as they shell 'em out. The sirens have been set off and the blaring noise has all of England shaken up from their sleep.
Jose Mourinho is a proficient tactician who knows exactly what he wants from the transfer market. All his signings in his debut season have been standout performers. Mkhitaryan, perhaps the only one who people looked to with doubt, took his time to adapt but has now become an indispensable part of the starting XI.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought back goals to Old Trafford. Eric Bailly put his long legs to good use and snuffed the ball out from tight spaces and ran the quickest of adversaries tired.
And then there is Paul Pogba. The then most expensive player in the world with the heaviest of loads on his shoulders. He did go missing every once in a while but he did create moments of magic which left Old Trafford nodding like, Yeah, that's an investment I can get behind.
If early signs are anything to go by, Mourinho has got it spot on with his signings again. Granted, Lindelof will need his time to adapt to the Premier League. But Romelu Lukaku looks all set to tear Premier League oppositions apart now that he's backed in the middle by a host of talented and creative individuals like Pogba, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Herrera, and Rashford.
In stark contrast to Mourinho's summer, Antonio Conte, fresh off winning the Premier League has had a frustrating time in the transfer window. Disgruntled by their missing out on Lukaku and their lack of success in trying to sign Alex Sandro; nothing has crippled Chelsea's summertime hopes like the departure of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United.
It was perhaps the least flashy of all the summer arrivals when Matic joined United ranks a couple of days before the UEFA Super Cup Final. Mourinho who had been trying to find a replacement for the aging Carrick has seemingly found an upgrade as United witnessed the understated brilliance of Nemanja Matic in their matches against Real Madrid and West Ham.
In Matic, Mourinho has found the missing piece of the puzzle he needed to set the magician in Paul Pogba free.
The Premier League kicked off on Friday night to a level of excitement that is unmatched elsewhere in Europe. Arsenal and Leicester faced off in an exhilarating and high-scoring matchup as the Gunners walked away with the spoils after a 4-3 victory.
Liverpool's defensive woes are still bridling their attacking efficiency and they had to settle for a draw after Watford equalized in the 93rd minute to end the game at 3-3.
Among the title contenders, Chelsea had quite a dismal start to the season. With Eden Hazard missing out owing to an injury and Costa's future still up in the air, Chelsea's nerves were pushed to the forefront as two of their most experienced players ended up picking up red cards in a 3-2 defeat. The fact that Alvaro Morata contributed efficiently by scoring their first goal and setting up the next one is the only positive Chelsea can take away from the opening weekend.
Manchester City eased past Brighton and Tottenham made quick work of Newcastle United as both matches ended 2-0.
But the story at Old Trafford was different.
Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba ran the show in the midfield. The Serb glided across the turf with his characteristic ease and grace as Pogba's feet sent defenders squint-eyed. Marcus Rashford took Zabaleta for a spin down the left flank and had the Argentine wishing he had more lungs and years to spare. Mkhitaryan gradually grew into the game with his pace and precision and picked up two assists.
When Pogba floated one of his signature looped balls into the box for Juan Mata, Stretford End knew United were just getting warmed up. A few minutes later, Marcus Rashford seized on to the ball after Matic won a tussle in midfield. The youngster fearlessly surged ahead before freeing Lukaku in the box with an incisive through ball which the Belgian finished off with his first touch. A debut goal at the Stretford End.
If you thought that was all, read on...
If you're going by sheer size, United is one team whose players you don't want to crash into a cuddle with in the air. The game warranted some serious climbing from the Hammers a few minutes into the second half as United won a free kick on the left flank. Standing, ahem, towering over the West Ham defense were Lukaku, Matic, Pogba and Jones. The Armenian served a delicious ball and Lukaku rose above Arthur Masuaku to set the Trafford stands on fire once again.
Marcus Rashford's relentlessness and technique saw him come agonizingly close to scoring when he beat Joe Hart on his far side but his shot hit the woodwork and fizzled out.
West Ham did conjure up a couple of chances for themselves but they need to do some target training as they provided little to challenge one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
As the game headed into its business end, Mourinho, who would normally shut shop, sent in Anthony Martial to seal the game and seal it he did. As soon as he pounced on the first ball that was served to him, the Frenchman was ready to take the West Ham defense head on.
Mkhitaryan found him lingering near the box in the 87th minute and a deft touch and a finesse swipe later, the ball was in the back of the net. A typical Anthony Martial finish which Trafford would love to see a whole lot more of.
Lingard's introduction saw a tuckered out West Ham defenders bailing out on their defensive duties as the winger started running around with the ball giving and taking passes off of all the midfield players. Anthony Martial would then find Paul Pogba in the centre with a straightforward pass which Pogba pounced upon and finished off with a curveball to top off what was an ominous performance.
The defense held their own. Blind was impressive running forward as was the ever reliable Antonio Valencia who is almost always the button that kickstarts United's counters. Bailly and Jones were solid in the centre though the Ivorian's temperament leaves a bit to be desired at times.
Well, that was a dominant performance and yes, it was against a weaker side. But the devil is in the details. Though Lukaku scored 2 and came close to getting a hat-trick on his debut, there are areas of his game that he needs to work on. He needs to get better at keeping hold of the ball and making smarter runs when United are breaking swiftly on the counter. That being said, the kindof bite with which Lukaku goes about his business will give United the sharpness they've been lacking in front of goal.
Matic will be key to United's title chances this term. His composure on the ball and ability to find a free man when trapped in tight spaces makes you wonder what Chelsea were even thinking sending him away from Stamford Bridge. The Serb looked more confident with the ball at his feet than he did last season and there was a point where he glided past 4 West Ham players with the demeanor of a man jogging in a park.
He covered every blade of grass on the pitch and completed 69 passes, more than anyone else on the ground, with a passing accuracy of 86%. He won possession for United 9 times, more than anyone else on the ground. He covered 11.41kms and that's more than anyone else on the ground, once again.
A liberated Paul Pogba looks like very bad news for the rest of the Premier League. Pogba does not have the price tag sh*tstorm to endure this season. He has a Matic sized wall so he can float around the final third and work his magic. In addition to that, he seems to have settled in very well at Trafford. Paul Pogba is also one of those guys who can light up the dressing room. His big personality will go a long way in helping United achieve success this season.
Of course, it is Jose Mourinho's sophomore season at United and the man has won the league in his second season at every club he has managed.
The Portuguese manager is well endowed with a squad of players, most of whom have age on their sides. It is noteworthy that the Manchester United looks as tightly knit a unit as we have seen in the recent past. The inside banter is on social media for all to see and the lads seem to be having a lot of fun.
In the build-up to the game, Slaven Bilic said that United's physicality is scary. That it is and Marouane Fellaini didn't even start. When Marcus Rashford is sending wingbacks for sandwiches, Martial and Lingard are on the bench waiting to be set on the loose. When Mkhitaryan is running at the defenders and poking the ball through their feet, Mata is in the center weaving some La Roja magic.
As Pogba and Matic prance around the midfield, Herrera's sagacity will seem untapped. When Romelu Lukaku is strutting his stuff and bullying defenses, a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic is warming up to return to Old Trafford.
When Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw return from their injuries, Mourinho will be spoiled for choice. Michael Carrick, Andreas Pereira and Matteo Darmian are a few other names who were warming the bench on the opening weekend. Being in charge of a squad with that kindof depth is Antonio Conte's wet dream.
Manchester United looks like they've spent enough time in mediocrity and served their sentence. Jose Mourinho and his lads seem all geared up to win their royal robes back and put the crown on a familiar head once again.
And maybe, ice has indeed melted back to life.