Manchester United started their Premier League campaign with an excellent win over West Ham that cemented their credentials as genuine title contenders and sent them to the top of the table. The Red Devils romped to a 4-0 victory on Sunday, though in truth it could have been even more.
A brace from Romelu Lukaku, scoring either side of half-time, set United on their way, before Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba rounded off the scoring late on after a host of chances had already been spurned. It was the perfect start to the new season for Jose Mourinho, with countless positives…
STAR MAN – NEMANJA MATIC
What on earth were Chelsea thinking? If ever there was a sign that the champions are repeating all the same mistakes of the ill-fated title defence that cost Mourinho his job, it is the decision to allow Nemanja Matic to move to Old Trafford.
Back then, it was Petr Cech joining Arsenal that hinted at a disconnect between manager and board, now it is Matic. Antonio Conte described the Serb as a ‘big loss’ last week – and intimidated that he would not have sold him – and he showed exactly why against West Ham.
Matic’s game by numbers
Passing accuracy: 85% – Rank: 6th
Possession gained: 9 – Rank: 1st
Tackles won: 2 – Rank: 1st
The 29-year-old was an immoveable object in the heart of United’s midfield, screening the back-line and disrupting the opposition, but also freed up the attackers to push on. Mourinho wanted him to bring balance, and he did exactly that.
United were solid without ever being negative, attacking without ever being open. And that was all thanks to Matic. His performance was summed up by his role in the opening goal, winning possession before overlapping beyond Marcus Rashford to create space. A dominant display.
FAILED TO IMPRESS – WEST HAM’S NEW SIGNINGS
West Ham are widely considered to have had a good summer, bringing in four established stars to bolsters their squad. But based on this showing, they could struggle this season, while their new recruits – who would have been superstars five years ago – looked a little past it.
West Ham match stats
Shots on target: 1
Passing accuracy: 79%
Joe Hart was nervy and unconvincing in goal, and his relentless yelling had no effect on the defenders ahead of him, while Pablo Zabaleta was routinely burned by the outrageous pace of Rashford. But the biggest worry will be Javier Hernandez.
Chicharito, who spent six years at Old Trafford, had said he did not know if he would celebrate if he scored, but that dilemma looked a million miles away. He had no real sniffs of goal and was only ever on the periphery of the match. His 44 touches was the second lowest of any outfield starter, and you would have needed reminding that he was still on the pitch.
WHAT SURPRISED US? – MAN UTD COHESION
United have looked very good in pre-season, and did well to almost force a penalty shootout against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, but not even Mourinho could have anticipated that his new side – and new signings – would make such an impressive start to the league campaign.
They looked incredibly well drilled, passing and moving to create openings when dominating possession, but also breaking with speed and precision, creating overloads almost every time they surged forward. In truth, they should have scored plenty more goals than they actually did.
Man Utd match stats
Shots on target: 2
Passing accuracy: 85%
Yet they were never exposed at the back. Much has been made of Mourinho’s second season record – he has always won the title – but it really does look like he’s built a side capable of doing the same again. The rest of the league should really stand up and take notice.
Also, a quick shout out to Rashford. If Mourinho had got the winger he wanted the teenager might have been on the bench, but he was an absolute livewire on the left flank and was incredibly unlucky not to get on the score sheet himself.
WHAT DIDN’T SURPRISE US? – LUKAKU SCORING
There were few things that felt more certain this weekend than Romelu Lukaku netting against West Ham. The Belgian has now scored in 10 of his last 11 games against the Hammers, though had never previously scored more than once in a single match.
But that changed on Sunday. He took his first goal with pure unadulterated confidence, running onto Rashford’s through-ball and expertly burying a left-footed shot into the bottom corner via the post. It was exactly the kind of finish that United did not see enough of last season.
His second was rather easier, finding himself unmarked from a free-kick to nod the ball into the ground and past a motionless Hart. United needed a more ruthless predator and they’ve got one. Two shots on target, two goals. If he keeps that kind of ratio up, United will win a lot of matches this season.