Manchester United's midfield powerhouses running the early show
A look at the impact of strong running midfielders on Manchester United's early season good form.
The Premier League has started with a bang and defences still seem to be in vacation mode, shipping in goals for fun. Manchester United have set the early pace with two resounding victories by identical four goal margins.
There is something extremely ominous about this United team and the fear factor they were once so known for, seems to be making its way back in. Things are still early though, and a flashback to a year ago shows us that nothing is set in stone yet, as a United team that opened with three wins last season eventually ended up finishing in sixth place.
The opening weekends, however, have been promising and this is, in fact, Manchester United's best start to the league for more than a 100 years. At the same time, anything other than a win against Leicester would mean that they would've started worse than the season in which they actually secured their lowest ever position of sixth. This clearly highlights that it is early days and at this stage, and jumping to conclusions may be naive.
The midfield prowess
However, it is interesting to look at how the team has changed over the last year and why they have been able to start on such a strong note. The answer clearly lies in their ability to boss the midfield. The United centre midfield is an absolute powerhouse.
Despite early reservations about Matic's signing, it looks like a super smart signing by Mourinho at the moment. His ability to focus on the defensive side of the game, shielding the centre backs as well as allowing Pogba to move forward more freely has helped the team thrive in the attacking third. The team has strong runners with the ball and most of the damage has been done through the centre.
Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have all contributed brilliantly through goals and assists and at times have left their opponents gasping for air in the respective games against them. It's thus may be safe to say that we expect more goals to come as a direct result of United overpowering their opponents in the centre of midfield.
The league's highest goalscorer so far hasn't even been mentioned yet. Once again there were reservations about the price at which Romelu Lukaku was bought and his ability to perform in big games is yet to be tested. However, the man has responded in style with a superb start to the season scoring in each of the three competitive games Manchester United has played so far.
He is a strong forward with the ability to hold up the ball well, roll his defender as well as make incisive runs behind the defence. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not been missed so far and you have give Lukaku full marks for making that happen.
Direct running from the wings
All of United's goals, barring Lukaku's header on the opening day have come as a result of strong runs down the centre of midfield. Even the so called wingers in Martial and Rashford have preferred to go on the inside and this has led to breathtaking moves resulting in great goals.
And given the kind of pace and physicality the United front line possess, none of us should be surprised if we see most of their goals scored this way over the rest of the season.
Martial and Rashford aren't the only players who prefer to take on players and go on the inside. In fact, long gone are the days when Beckham and Giggs were taking on defenders on the outside and whipping in crosses into the penalty area.
As Chelsea's dominance began during the middle of last decade, we saw the emergence of Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and Joe Cole who were more than happy to cut in and get shots away rather than going for crosses to the centre. Even today's most successful wingers in the form of Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez are not the ones who you would expect whipped centres from.
The game has changed over the last 15 years and wingers have become more central as years have gone by. A lot of this stems from the fact that players are often played on the wing that is their weaker foot, thereby encouraging them to cut in rather than take on players on the outside.
And except for Cristiano Ronaldo, this is something we have not seen from Manchester United players. Things have changed and it is refreshing to see them play in the same vein that had helped them build this fear factor over other teams.
Many of the teams were resigned to defeat before stepping onto the field. There is a strong possibility of those days being back soon enough. But as I had said before, it is still early days.