August saw the return of the Premier League, and with it came heavy expectations for Manchester United. José Mourinho has won the domestic title in his second season at each of his previous clubs. This, coupled with a very strong transfer period, has made success a requirement.
The Red Devils wasted little time making their mark on the new campaign. A 4-0 demolition of West Ham on opening weekend saw them go straight to the top of the table. The same result against Swansea City and a 2-0 victory over Leicester City leave Manchester United sitting first at the international break.
Five Things Learned from the Manchester United August Fixtures
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford can co-exist
Prior to the season there were many questions surrounding dynamic youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The arrival of Romelu Lukaku seemingly meant that one of the two must settle for a role off the bench.
Despite Martial impressing in pre-season, it was Rashford who earned the start against West Ham and Swansea City. While the Englishman impressed with his pace and dribbling, he failed to find the back of the net in both games. Martial, however, scored twice and added an assist in just 25 minutes combined, meaning he earned a start against Leicester. Roles reversed again against the Foxes, with Martial running free for the majority of the match, and Rashford scoring off the bench.
Mourinho seems to have found the winning formula with two similar players. One will play the majority of the match and run defences ragged, while the other will take advantage of tired legs late in games. Should both youngsters continue to buy into this system, it will be a big advantage when fixtures begin to pile up.
Weakness at wing-back
While Antonio Valencia has been a revelation since his transition to right-back, the Red Devils rely too much on the Ecuadorian. Manchester United will play a minimum of 45 matches this season, far too many for Valencia to play every minute. Ashley Young is the most likely candidate to fll in for Valencia, but he is much less proficient and consistently injured.
Conversely, Daley Blind has been stellar at left wing-back, but he should not be considered a long-term solution. Riyad Mahrez frequently exploited his lack of pace, and a stronger team than Leicester will capitalise on this weakness. Luke Shaw is a much more viable option, yet his shaky relationship with Mourinho may hinder his playing time.
Lukaku should be off penalty duty
The addition of Lukaku brought many necessary qualities into the team. The Belgian is Premier League-proven, a powerful runner and strong in the air. He is not, however, a reliable penalty taker. He has missed three of his last five penalties, and five of the 15 he has taken in his career, which is not good enough to be a first-choice penalty taker in the Premier League.
Mourinho’s man-management is terrific
Last season, Mourinho was subject to many doubts about his status an elite manager. His decision to slowly integrate reigning Bundesliga player of the year, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, into the starting XI was often scrutinised. This year, however, Manchester United are reaping the rewards. Mkhitaryan has registered five assists in his first three games, equaling a 23-year-old Premier League record. Reports suggest that Victor Lindelöf will be receiving the same treatment. If the Swede can flourish as Mkhitaryan has, he will excel in Manchester United’s back line in the near future.
Additionally, the early stages of this season have demonstrated the importance of a manager’s relationship with his players. Mourinho claims that his understanding with current players has lead to their blistering start. His long standing relationship with Nemanja Matic has also seen a return to form for the Serbian, who was much more restrained under Antonio Conte last season.
Good health the key to Phil Jones’ form
Since he joined Manchester United in 2011, Phil Jones has struggled to maintain fitness; he has accumulated an incredible 31 injuries and illnesses in just six years. Jones’ injury woes are ultimately the cause behind his failure to develop into the centre-half the club expected.
Yet this season has told a different tale for Jones. He has contributed 2.7 interceptions and 6.7 clearances per game over the first three matches—impressive statistics in a team averaging almost 60% possession per match. Jones’ positional sense has also improved this season. Committing just one foul in three matches, his timing and ability to anticipate threats have come on leaps and bounds. Should Jones continue his strong performances, Victor Lindelöf may struggle to crack the first XI.
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