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Manchester United: Lukaku makes headlines, but Matic steals the show

United were in fine form for their season-opener, but the key to victory was wearing #31, not #9.


Manchester United took to the field yesterday to start their Premier League campaign with a lot of expectations. After spending years away from the title chase, the Red Devils are tipped by many to be serious title challengers in 2017/18 given their investment, development and Jose’s second season successes.

Jose Mourinho’s Year 2 at clubs is almost always a roaring success, and his second season in charge of Man United got started with a dazzling display against West Ham. The Irons showed steely resolve early on but were soon overwhelmed by a United side that were in full flow despite the new pieces Mourinho has added over the summer.

The sizzle

Two goals from Romelu Lukaku had Old Trafford roaring. The new striker was brought in for a hefty fee to do what United couldn’t do last season, and put stubborn, but lesser, sides away with ease. His first goal broke the 0-0 deadlock, as he took a delightful pass from Marcus Rashford and hammered it past a hapless Joe Hart at the near post. His second made it 2-0, as he nodded in a Henrikh Mkhitaryan free kick after easily freeing himself from his marker.

It was a consummate display that left every United fan sure that the £75 million fee was well worth it. However, while Lukaku’s goals took the headlines, it was another new signing who stole the show.

The steak

In a far less heralded move this summer, Manchester United plucked Nemanja Matic away from Chelsea and reunited him with Mourinho. Together, they made magic on Sunday.

Matic’s simple distribution kept the ball moving when West Ham were compact and stubborn, his positioning was a constant problem to The Irons when they were on the ball, and his tackling quickly got United back on the front foot.

An early diagonal ball to Mkhitaryan showed just what he can do though, and throughout the game he was a platform for United to build and dominate.

Lukaku’s opening goal stemmed from Matic closing down Pedro Obiang in the United half, cutting out a ball to Pablo Zabaleta and springing Rashford to gallop down the exposed channel.

Freedom

Matic’s rock-solid defensive work also allowed Paul Pogba to play more like Paul Pogba. He was nominally lined up in the centre of the midfield next to Matic, doing a little more protective work behind Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and the rest, but as Matic took the game over he could go wandering. Pogba popped up on the right flank for a little dribble around some out-matched defenders and again went for a run that left several West Ham players scratching their heads. It is also no coincidence that Pogba was able to create much more later on in the game when Jose brought Fellaini on, who sat back with Matic and afforded Pogba complete freedom to operate further up the pitch.

With Matic there, United fans got to see the Pogba they expected to see last year, and it all added up to a 4-0 thumping of a West Ham side whose resolve was crushed by a United side that look ready to take the Premier League by storm this season.

Maybe there is something to that “second season” stuff after all…

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Toby Durant

A passionate and opinionated writer, I am currently the NFL editor for RealSport. However, I also contribute to F1, WWE, Football, and other sections of the site, and I have covered the NFL International Series for RealSport and previously contributed to SB Nation.

 

I also have 10 years playing and coaching experience in American football, starting at the University of Nottingham and including a stint as defensive coordinator at Oxford Brookes University. I may be a Patriots fan but all aspects of the sport interest me, from guard play to special teams.

Manchester United: Lukaku makes headlines, but Matic steals the show

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