What we learned from United’s opening evening victory.
United deserved the win but it was very much a below-par affair; it felt like a pre-season game, owing much to the fact both sides had many players out. There were some nice moments and some issues with cohesion. Here’s the thing; it’s early season, so you hope United will eventually improve and get a genuine pattern of play going. It’s forgivable when the side is so heavily rotated, but United will hope for – and need – better.
Jose Mourinho seemed happy with the win. “Mr Scudamore must be happy, it’s a good way to start the Premier League,” he said. “A good match. A match where I needed six changes not three. I want to play Martial but I can’t, Paul Pogba can’t play 90, Fred the same. I need more changes.
“It was not easy to manage the game from the touchline. But I told the players we had good periods, lots of glimpses of the type of football we wanted to play. Leicester were strong in periods but we coped with that as a team.
“The team played as a team. In the second half I had Andreas Pereira and Fred with a yellow card, Paul was fantastic, his contribution was amazing but the fuel was disappearing. We were in trouble.
“Martial in the last 20 minutes could have given us the second goal but I couldn’t make that change. The players gave everything, they gave what they had. Everybody did that.”
He added: “It’s important to win and play well, we played well in periods against a good team that invest more than us.
“We must get used to teams who have players of the same quality that we have. Every team is a good team, forget the name, forget the history, forget the shirt.
“It will be a difficult season for everybody, not just for us. I had my plans for many months and I find myself with the market closed in a situation I did not think I would be in. It’s the last time I speak about it. It’s over, the market is closed.
“That’s football managment. I think football is changning and managers should be called head coaches. We have to wait until the end of November to understand if we can fight for the title.
“I am very pleased for Luke Shaw. He made one mistake in 90 minutes, he was very good defensively. He had a good pre-season.”
A Shaw thing
This was a low-key performance and victory with the highlight coming eight minutes from the end; Luke Shaw, as we have seen him try many times before, flicked the ball around his marker.
For the first time ever, we saw him connect on the other side to score his first ever senior goal. Old Trafford was naturally delighted. As was Shaw. As, perhaps somewhat symbolically, was Jose Mourinho on the touchline. It was the most ‘united’ this club has seemed in many a month and was a very, very positive moment.
Pogba as captain
It was bigger news than it seemed it might have been a week ago; Paul Pogba was named captain. It seemed like an obvious choice but, against the backdrop of the Barcelona bid, naming him as skipper has been perceived by some members in the press as an attempt to convince him to stay.
You can expect some sort of reaction about his muted celebration following his early penalty kick. A few months away from club football creates a curious altering of perception, where you almost start to believe the idea that Pogba has been poor since returning to Old Trafford, an opinion that has been inflated week upon week.
Pogba wasn’t outstanding but had a number of outstanding moments. It was the sort of reminder you need; if he has better players around him, he will play better. There are flashes. Who knows. Maybe the captaincy will bring a new maturity from the Frenchman.
Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof were named from the start; considering the controversy over United’s pursuit for a centre half, and the suggestion that Mourinho hasn’t been backed because he still hasn’t given his own signings a fair crack, it seemed like a pointed selection.
It was the sort of showing you might expect from a fledgling partnership. Lindelof looked okay, Bailly was the leader (though he should definitely have done better for Leicester’s goal); it’s much too premature to say that United might not have needed that centre-half they were after. United gave away a few too many chances to say that; they needed David De Gea to be alert. It didn’t need the last 12 months to tell us that Bailly and Lindelof should be given the chance to establish themselves as a pair.
To that end, it should be said that one major criticism that Mourinho possibly deserved last season was that there was a potentially better defence at his disposal than the one he chose to field. This evening, three of those players made a very strong argument for their place.
With so much of the squad still working their way to fitness, this was a big chance for some players to impress. Matteo Darmian and Juan Mata looked like an awkward couple on a first date; it was enough to get through tonight but nobody will want it to happen again. Luke Shaw passed his audition and deserves a second chance.
Andreas Pereira showed fine maturity to play the Nemanja Matic role to give Jose Mourinho confidence that he has four midfielders in the Brazilian, Fellaini, Herrera and McTominay to come in for his first choice three.
The square peg
…Which may be an harsh way of describing Alexis Sanchez, but you get the point. Is he anywhere closer to fitting this particular jigsaw? Well, he looked okay tonight, being involved in winning the penalty and fashioned a fantastic chance for Lukaku to make it two.
There is still a way to go – at moment it still looks, or feels, like Alexis Sanchez and ten others – but it is going in the right direction. Maybe that’s something based in hope more than in reality.