José Mourinho made the most successful start a Manchester United manager has ever had, winning his fourth consecutive match as the boss with his troops scraping out a 1-0 victory over a resilient Hull City side. Mike Phelan drilled his troops as best he could and they remained stout at the back, but they were unable to keep United at bay forever.
The first hour was a very drab affair, with the hosts making life very difficult for United in the final third. The visitors remained unable to coerce any flow into the game, with the team struggling to gel passing and movement wise. They came to life in the final half hour, with substitutes Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford breathing new life into their attack. “Fergie Time” returned and Mourinho certainly had no objection.
“[Sir Alex Ferguson is] such a legend in the club and I’m more than happy to say that we won in ‘Fergie time’. I’m more than happy with that.”
Perhaps it was a sign of a shakeup in the first XI to come for the derby with Manchester City after the International break. Right now though? The Reds can relish a relatively drama free start to the season.
Super Subs Mkhitaryan and Rashford Save The Day
League Champions win games when they don’t play well, and that’s what Manchester United did in their victory. Although they dominated possession and had the ball in their attacking half for the vast majority of the contest, the heavy favourites were unable to conjure clinical chances in the first hour of the game.
The introduction of Mkhitaryan and Rashford changed all of that, with the Armenian adding verve and pace to the front line with Rashford joining him later with fresh endeavour. It paid off when Wayne Rooney turned back the clock to dance up the touchline before playing in a cleverly designed ball along the deck for the youth starlet to duck in and tap home.
Traveling fans went crazy as their journeys were made all the more worth when Rashford sprinted to celebrate with fans who had stood in the rain for two hours to witness a crazy finish. Mkhitaryan meanwhile pressed claims for a first XI spot making a huge difference off the bench, his direct running and dribbling a welcome addition. Had he reacted quicker with 10 minutes to go when he was 12 yards out, he may have opened his United account.
They were brilliant cameos, as both players made a claim for more of a role in the derby.
The Defence Continues to Excel
The José Mourinho effect on the club’s defence continues to look promising, with another solid display where they look almost never troubled. Chris Smalling continues his semi-exile from the starting lineup, as he cannot break into a solid looking unit that is gelling more and more.
Eric Bailly and Daley Blind’s burgeoning central defensive partnership continued, and it is hard to pick who was more impressive out of the two. The Ivorian’s devastating physicality is increasingly impressive, whilst Blind’s composure and incredible football IQ is continuing to win him admirers. Those who once doubted his defensive credentials are having their minds changed.
Meanwhile on the flanks, Antonio Valencia was unlucky not to add another assist to his tally for the season, and Shaw played arguably his best game since returning from his serious broken leg. He got forward well on a day where Anthony Martial struggled and was excellent when tracking back defensively.
Perhaps it is this defensive solidarity that has prompted Mourinho to declare no new signings are necessary during this window.
Another Mixed Display for the Captain
Wayne Rooney continues to be a huge source of debate for the fanbase. Many fans and writers are calling for his head in the first team whilst other fans and analysts (many ex-players and teammates of the Englishman) maintain he is a vital cog in the lineup.
It didn’t start well for him, where his first touch and passing betrayed him particularly in the first half. He was practically unwatchable as the wet conditions got the better of him and the ball bounced off him time and again. It seems he is also still struggling to blend with talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović, as the two players styles continue to clash.
However he cancelled all that noise out somewhat with an assist that will please both his detractors and his fans, as he likely survives another week and confirms his place in the first XI for when Manchester City come to Old Trafford in 2 weeks time.
Competition For Places Becoming Evident
What a beautiful problem it is for Manchester United to have selection dilemmas across the board. Chris Smalling is desperately waiting for his first start of the season in defence. Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera wait patiently for a midfield berth. Memphis, Jesse Lingard and Mkhitaryan wait in the wings for a wide berth and Rashford continues to press both wide and up front.
Competition for places is getting hotter and hotter, and the boss will be thankful more games await next month. Six games in 19 days await when the players return from International duties, with fixtures in the Premier League, Europa League and EFL Cup giving Mourinho the chance to rotate and additionally some fringe players will have the chance to impress.
Increased competition is also brought by a lack of injuries, which is a welcome change to years gone by. Mourinho’s squads in his career have generally enjoyed good injury records and he will hope this continues in his first season in Manchester.
Questions for the Derby
Intriguing questions now linger heading for the Red Devils into the first derby of the new era and the reunion of the rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Whilst City appear to have a fairly settled first XI, United are still sorting through who truly belongs in theirs.
It also seems that Mourinho is giving himself a variety of options based on the opponent and what is needed on that day. Has Henrikh Mkhitaryan done enough in his cameos to take (likely) Juan Mata’s place or has the Spaniard held his own? Could Marcus Rashford give Anthony Martial a reprieve in what has been a tough start to the season on and off the field? Will Eric Bailly’s temperament hold up in his first derby? Mourinho seems happy with the progress going forward into a season he believes can end in success.
“Our objective is only one – to be champions. If at the end of the season we finish second, third or fourth it’s because someone is better than us, if you finish fifth or sixth it’s because we were not good enough. You have to play to win every game. If we don’t win, we don’t win, but the mentality is there and the boys are giving everything . It’s amazing when I look to my side and I see the people on the bench suffering with us and then jumping for the goal. It’s a privilege for me to work with these guys.”
These aforementioned questions aren’t negatives though, they are all exciting parts of a bright new era for Manchester United. It’s going to be a long two weeks as everyone awaits arguably the most awaited fixture on the calendar.