Manchester United: New season, same old Mourinho?

Old Trafford struggled to subsist on Mourinho’s stodgy fare last season, but were there signs of change in the win over Leicester?

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REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

For Jose Mourinho, the result is the only thing that matters. Cold, hard, wins have always been his currency. Column inches, flattery and worship have forever been given short shrift. 

It’s just as well because even though Manchester United kicked off their season with a win on Saturday, there was precious little to suggest that Mourinho’s stodgy style is changing. Goals from Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw sealed the result, but the home side were outplayed for large swathes of this encounter. 

Mourinho’s men made fewer passes, fewer shots, and committed more fouls than Claude Puel’s visitors. Fred, a multi-million-pound addition, made a quiet start as he was circumvented by the impressive James Maddison. The latter drew the best from David de Gea early in the second half, with the Spaniard making a tremendous save from an instinctive effort. 

Despite the usual drudgery, there are some small positives United fans can cling to. Pogba, showboating his way to scoring a third-minute penalty, registered a swaggering display that was underpinned by Fred’s discipline and work rate. 

REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

If the Brazilian can shield his teammate the way N’Golo Kante did at the World Cup, Pogba will have the platform to showcase all of his devastating talents. The new addition was slightly unsettled here, perhaps a bit too eager to make an impression at the base of Mourinho’s midfield as he made a few rash challenges.

After 18 months of battering and bullying, Luke Shaw also looked impressive on the left. A first-ever career goal capped a wonderful evening that brimmed with attacking intent. Shaw was always available for an overlap, always incisive with his passing and didn’t stop running all afternoon. De Gea, too, was back to his best after a lamentable World Cup campaign with Spain.

That United looked relatively comfortable here despite missing a host of first-teamers augurs well for the year ahead, one that the supporters hope will bring the best from Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku.

The quality of the opposition shouldn’t be overlooked here either. Puel has imbibed this Leicester team with a blend of experience and youthful talent, with longtime United target Harry Maguire lodging a typically dominant display alongside captain Wes Morgan. Both were at the heart of a 4-2-3-1 formation that was meant to frustrate and stifle the hosts. For large periods, it seemed to work too. 

REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

It’s a passable start, and Mourinho will wave away the simmering complaints about style. Increasingly, however, United fans are beginning to question whether results are the only thing that counts. 

Wins are always welcome, but a summer of cringe-worthy tantrums from the manager means that his safety-first approach has never been more unpopular. Can they sit through another year of tantrums and totalitarian tactics? We’ll see.

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