Whisper it quietly but Manchester United are back.
In a weekend where Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all failed to gain maximum points, Jose Mourinho’s men hammered Everton in a game where they could easily a have copied their top four rivals by leaving the pitch with just one.
Manchester United ended their last campaign with 15 draws, more notably against lesser sides such as Everton, and despite only showing glimpses of their early-season from, they ran out 4-0 winners, matching rivals Manchester City in every department. Both sides are now joint-top with identical records.
It is easy to get carried away with one game but the Old Trafford side are beginning to show a ruthlessness under Jose Mourinho. Even if they are not at their best they don’t look like conceding and even better they look confident going forward unlike the days of Louis van Gaal where the safe option of passing backwards seemed to be the main objective.
With games against Leicester City, Swansea City, West Ham United and, most recently, versus Everton looking like they could go either way, United pounced in the final quarter and buried their opponents as we had become accustomed to during the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. Last term those games would have ended in draws. Old Trafford is once again a fortress.
Manchester United relied too heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season with his goals helping them return to the Champions League through winning the Europa League but their lack of finishing and failing to put away teams such as Swansea and Everton, as they have done this season, has been a remarkable improvement on last season’s hugely disappointing league campaign.
Eight different players have found the net so far this campaign in all competitions. United sit joint-top in the league and top of their Champions League group after defeating Basel last week as they begin their defence of the newly-named Carabao Cup at home to Burton Albion this week.
Romelu Lukaku has been outstanding with his six goals and one assist so far, although, like the big Swede, he has been guilty of not adding to his tally, missing guilt-edged chances such as the opportunity he passed up against his old club on Sunday with the whole of Old Trafford expecting the net to bulge once again after he had ran through on goal.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have both been in and out of the side but have contributed three goals and an assist each and in the Frenchman’s case he looks motivated when coming off the bench, eager to show his worth even if it’s only for a five-minute cameo like yesterday afternoon with no sign of sulking, which we saw at times last season.
Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia have all contributed with goals so far this campaign, which bodes well for the season. United won’t be too reliant on any one man like last season in which Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were the only players to hit double figures in all competitions. This had to improve if Mourinho’s men were to finally move on from the decline since the departure of Ferguson in 2013.
While it is early in the campaign and tougher tests will come, signs are positive in Manchester that the red half are back and are genuine contenders for the Premier League title this season.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham all left their transfer dealings too late in the day while both Manchester clubs conducted their business efficiently. Although United were frustrated in their attempts to sign Ivan Perisic it could be seen as a blessing in disguise with both Rashford and Martial getting more opportunities to impress.
Apart from the draw at Stoke City, United are looking like the real deal, without hitting top form yet. There’s no doubt going to be bigger tests, particularly when the team enter an inevitable trickier period of games.
However, United look to have moved on from last season’s difficulties and a mouthwatering title showdown with Manchester City is beginning to take shape.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena