After a second 4-0 win in as many weeks, there is much to admire about Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. Eight goals scored, zero conceded, two clean sheets. New star striker Romelu Lukaku is making a seamless transition to life at Old Trafford, adding to the feel-good factor around the club.
The media has been quick to praise the team’s winning start but Manchester United fans should not get drawn into the hype. While they can be happy with the positive performances, there are things about the team that they should take note of.
Early season form means nothing
Last season, Manchester City flew out the gates and won all their matches in August and September. With a new manager on the sidelines sending out a team to play expansive, attacking football, many thought City were the team to beat for the title. They ended up finishing third, six points behind second-place Tottenham.
Similarly, United also won their first two games of the last season, only to limp to a sixth-place finish in the table.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United gained a reputation for being slow starters. The manager himself acknowledged that United only needed to be near the top of the table in January to be in contention for the title. United fans would do well to take these early wins as they are, two good wins and nothing more.
Lack of width
Paul Clement organised Swansea well and for most of the game, Manchester United found it difficult to break them down. Marcus Rashford drifted inside to stay closer to Lukaku, while Juan Mata is no wide player either.
This made it easy for Swansea to collapse into a compact back five and defend against a United team intent on attacking through the middle. It was only after Swansea switched to a back four did United find space to exploit, which they did very effectively. The three goals in quick succession added a gloss to the final score.
United counter-attack very well and future opposition will be keen to negate this by defending deep and compact. In those games, Mourinho needs to push one or both of his full-backs further forward and take on defenders more often. Otherwise, United will face the same old difficulties of breaking teams down.
Lack of penetrative movement
Movement is another way for United to overcome those tight defences, which is perhaps why Mourinho was keen on adding Ivan Perisic to his squad.
After he was brought on against Swansea, the effervescent Anthony Martial went on a short run which cut through the middle. This committed the Swansea defenders, drawing them to the ball. A simple pass from Mkhitaryan found Lukaku unmarked in the box, who was free to score United’s second goal.
United need more of this and Romelu Lukaku can play his part to help. Granted, he’s far more mobile and already stretching defences in a way Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not. However, Thierry Henry, his coach and mentor for the Belgian team, has suggested that clever movement could make him even more dangerous.
The Frenchman has pointed out a number of times where Lukaku could incorporate more off-the-ball movement into his game. By doing so, he would pull defenders along, opening up, even more, space and creating new avenues of passing for his teammates.
United need to do this to present more problems for opponents and force them into mistakes. Hopefully, this is something United fans can look forward to as Lukaku develops at United.
Marcus Rashford has added a lot to his game since bursting onto the scene with two goals on his Premier League debut. He’s now developed a physical presence, plays intelligently and remains a tricky opponent for any defender in the Premier League.
However, for all his qualities, he’s not known to be a ruthless finisher. His youth and inexperience excused him in earlier seasons but he is now in his second full season with the first team and needs to take his chances when they come his way.
Lukaku is a great first-choice striker but a club like United need options. Rashford earned his dues playing out wide but if he wants to stake his claim as a striker, he needs to start scoring goals with greater regularity. It will be especially crucial should Lukaku pick up an injury.
United’s attack is now more dynamic and Rashford should have no problems scoring, even if he starts from a wider position. Considering that Martial has two in two coming off the bench, Rashford has no excuses.
These points do not discredit Manchester United and their clinical start to their season. The positive, entertaining football has brought smiles to the faces of their fans. But as the game against Real Madrid showed, they are a work in progress and questions remain about the squad. It is important to balance any media hyperbole with a more sobering view that takes the team’s weaknesses into account. It will also prevent overreactions when they face their first setback.
United need to focus on getting as many wins as they can to solidify their early lead. If they can work on their shortcomings or minimise their effect, they will undoubtedly emerge as a genuine contender for the title later on in the season.
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