Written by John Kent
The last time Old Trafford was as electric as last night for an evening kick off, Jose Mourinho also emerged victorious, but this time it was a glorious home victory, defeating Southampton 2-0 thanks to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double.
Prior to kick off last, the new Manchester United manager spoke of nights gone by, of an Old Trafford stadium baying for the blood of opposition players as they smelt yet another victory. The truth is, the home of the Red Devils had probably not felt such an atmosphere since Mourinho ended Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European campaign three years ago when manager of Real Madrid.
Last night was a taste of things to come though for the United faithful. Alongside the manager, there were full home debuts for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly, as well as an impressive 20 minute cameo for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. There was also of course the homecoming of a certain Paul Pogba, with ‘home’ being the operative word for exactly how he patrolled the turf for an unexpected full 90 minutes.
On the night though that the Frenchman was the subject of the majority of the pre-match talk, it was the exquisite number nine, Ibrahimovic who stole the show, and reminded everyone that at 34 he still ranks amongst the very best in world football. Whether it be the close-knit control or the towering goalscoring header, the Swede has well and truly left his mark on the Barclays Premier League after this inaugural Friday Night offering, and the Stretford End faithful will be praying it is a sign of things to come.
What of Pogba though? Mourinho claimed after the game he told the world’s most expensive player to just go out and play – and play he did. Situated to the left of Marouane Fellaini, Pogba was given the freedom to control the game on the front foot, often dropping deep to collect the ball before taking on the Southampton side. Particularly noticeable was his ability to muscle the ball off the opposition, or bounce players off him as they attempted to do the same. Whilst not the perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination, he at least showed the pressure of the fee would not weigh him down.
Jose Mourinho will be as happy about the clean sheet as anything else though, and will be especially delighted that the perceived weakness in the squad prior to the season has so far stood strong to questions asked. Eric Bailly had another impressive performance, despite being the recipient of a strong David De Gea stare following a late back pass putting the Spaniard under unnecessary pressure. Alongside him Daley Blind provides a reassuring presence, and Chris Smalling knows he has a job to force his way back into this team. In the full-back positions Valencia is proving to doubters he can both take on a man, and provide a cross, whilst Luke Shaw is reminding United fans why many feel they would have still qualified for the Champions League had he not got injured. In the process of winning the penalty, he also disproved those saying Mourinho would not let him attack. One thing is for sure, with this defence in front of David De Gea, the goalkeeper is unlikely to win player of the year for a third successive season.
We must not forget though there was an opposition in Southampton who are finding their way under new manager Claude Puel, and the travelling fans will continue to feel a sense of optimism despite just one point from the opening two games. The Saints midfield showed that they will go toe-to-toe with the very best, out-passing their more illustrious opponents 528 to 402, whilst also claiming the lions share of possession with 56.8%. A full debut was given to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, and he thrived in the deepest role in a diamond following the early withdrawal of Oriol Romeu with an injury. Up front, both Shane Long and Nathan Redmond looked threatening, though it is still to be seen if the latter will be able to produce the match winning talents the Southampton fans know they have lost with Sadio Mane. They will need no reminding that between the new Liverpool player and Graziano Pelle, they have lost a combination that provided 22 goals last year, and the manager and his coaching staff will be pondering how they will be able to make up for the loss. They did look dangerous however, and in Dusan Tadic they have a player who will continue to provide those in front of him with opportunities.
The truth is however they were up against it from the off; just a look down the tunnel pre-match would have sent tingles down the spine of any opposition player, as for the first time in a while, United had physical presence throughout the eleven.If you are to reach the summit of English football, physicality needs to be combined with s technical subtlety that allows you to outplay opposition – Manchester United now have that. In out dribbling their opponents fifteen to three, with Paul Pogba responsible for eight of those, the Reds have laid down a marker. Perhaps the most scary thing for opposition to consider, is last years star man Antony Martial is perhaps the most subdued of the forward line, despite showing glimpses in the second half before being substituted.
This though was the Jose Mourinho show from the start – whether it be allowing Paul Pogba to play the whole match after suggesting he may not even be ready to start, or bringing on Smalling for Wayne Rooney as the crowd hoped for a third. Should he bring silverware back to the Theatre of Dreams, such defensive moves will quickly be forgotten.
Whilst all the talk centred around a world record signing, the night belonged to a player who has winning in his DNA – a classic centre forward goal following a fantastic cross by Wayne Rooney, combined with a perfect penalty ensured he would leave the stadium with his fourth goal in three games, as well as diminishing those fears that he had arrived in England past his peak. Early days, but for the United faithful are beginning to believe there is a new ‘King’ in town.
Moment of the Match
Paul Pogba’s first touch
United fans can look back on it and laugh now – but after a summer of waiting, Pogba’s first touch on his return to Manchester was a dreadful miscue that resulted in a free-kick on the edge of the United box; luckily, it wasn’t a sign of things to come.
Manchester United fans, what did make of last night’s performance? Are there still areas for concern? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Paul