Manchester United maintained their 100% winning start to the 2017/18 season with a another statement victory at Swansea City.
The Red Devils built on their comprehensive 4-0 triumph over West Ham last time out by running out 4-0 winners again courtesy of goals from Eric Bailly, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial.
Jose Mourinho, who has always ended his second season in charge of a club with a domestic league title, kept faith with the eleven that started against the Hammers and for the second week they proved him right and importantly he learnt more about his charges.
If the match at Old Trafford against Slaven Bilic’s side was seen as a routine workout, this latest outing could be deemed as the same again, but slightly more different as they had to work for the three points before opening the floodgates late on, with the last three goals coming in the last ten minutes. Five of the eight goals United have scored this season, have come in the last 10 minutes.
As for the Swans they succumbed to their first defeat of the season having registered a goalless draw with Southampton on Premier League opening weekend.
Paul Clement soon after lost his talisman and influential playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for a reported £45m with life after the Icelandic international getting off on the wrong foot.
As the Portuguese tactician and his English counterpart dwell on the result here are five things we learned.
There are two sides of Pogba
There’s no question Pogba is United’s most important player.
The 24-year-old was their most creative player, regarding chances created, last season and there’s already a swagger in his performances this season which indicates the price tag – signing for a then world record £89m – is no longer a concern.
Nemanja Matic’s arrival, from champions Chelsea, has liberated the French international and him being given the license to play his natural game – that of a midfielder playing towards the flank despite being a central player.
He was pivotal to United breaking the deadlock, meeting Daley Blind’s corner, only to see the ball being saved by Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski though he was unable to prevent the oncoming Eric Bailly to stab the ball home.
However, that moment may not have occurred if referee Jonathan Moss had deemed Pogba’s second mistimed challenge a bookable offence, tackling has always been a weakness of the gifted Frenchman as he seemingly loses more than he wins.
Mourinho, who has challenged the Parisian to stamp his authority on more games, will not be overly concerned, but the Portuguese tactician will be a relieved man as the one area of Pogba’s game that can improve wasn’t to United’s detriment in Wales; one goal and two assists is the proof.
A new system for the Swans
Heading into their first home game of the season, Swansea boss Clement made the decision to deviate away from his tried and tested by adopting a back-three system.
Across his first 20 matches in charge, after succeeding the much-maligned Bob Bradley, he has deployed no fewer than five different formations, but they have all featured a back-four in one shape or another.
Clement, on seven occasions, lined his Swans out in 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1, while utilising 4-3-1-2 three times, 4-3-3 twice and 4-5-1 on one occasion.
His move, deploying a 3-5-2 system, was partly a way to counter United’s 4-3-3 as well as provide a threat of their own with two forwards – Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham – keeping the Red Devils defence honest.
For a while, they frustrated Mourinho’s side, and with a couple of tweaks here and there it could eventually develop into his formation of choice.
Bailly and Jones partnership tested
United unquestionably enjoyed a comfortable afternoon when they dispatched a ragged 4-0 at Old Trafford last weekend.
Starting the game in central defence was Eric Bailly, their most outstanding defender last season, and the much-maligned Phil Jones, who has had his fair share of injuries since arriving at the record 20-time English champions.
This season was set-up to be a make or break one for Jones, who harbours ambitions of representing England once again, especially after the signing of Swedish international Victor Lindelof from Benfica, with his performance against the Hammers vindicating Mourinho’s decision to keep the £31m man out of United’s XI.
But it was fair to say both him and Bailly – who popped up at the other end to break the deadlock on the stroke of half-time which saw him register his first goal for the Red Devils – were given a workout by Ayew and Abraham, inadvertently pleasing their Portuguese coach. He learned more from their partnership by them being tested and not being allowed to coast as they were at times a week ago.
Mkhitaryan becomes the brains
His first season in English football was a moderately successful one for Mkhitaryan, but the Bundesliga ‘assist king’ could only manage to create one goal across 24 league appearances.
He matched that total last weekend and followed it up by grabbing another brace of assists, moving his overall tally to four, and quietly establishing himself as the brains behind their ruthless attack.
Even this early, it is looking ominous for his rivals – notably Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen and Mesut Ozil – for the tag of the Premier League’s most creative.
United supporters clamoured for him to be heavily involved early on during the 2016/17, their wish eventually came to fruition, and now we are about to see the best of the Armenian and that spells trouble for the Red Devils upcoming opponents.
Martial: Mourinho’s super-sub
Throughout the summer Jose Mourinho was hell-bent in adding a out-and-out winger to his squad which made sense considering he just brought Lukaku – a threat in the air – to Old Trafford.
Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan was his prefered choice but a deal could not be agreed with the Serie A side reportedly keen for Anthony Martial to be part of any transfer.
United, despite their pursuit, were not willing to let go of Martial and that stance has come back to aid them with the French international, having only played 25 minutes of league football, already registering two goals and one assist from the bench.
Renowned for his liberal use of his substitute bench having such a threat to call upon, it is no wonder Mourinho is in a happy mood these days.
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