While 10 games into the new season can give you false hope, just as it did with Manchester City last season, it can, however, provide you with a blunt realisation of where you stack up this season. Manchester United might be joint-top of the Premier League, but how have they really done so far?
José Mourinho led the Red Devils to back-to-back 4-0 victories against West Ham, at home, and at Swansea City in the opening two games. What was interesting about both of these matches was that, in both games, Manchester United were only 1-0 up at half-time.
The game was pedestrian in the first half of both but once they scored the goal to break the deadlock, the floodgates opened. United looked far more composed and assured of their playing style – there were far more adventurous passes being played and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was causing havoc in-between the lines of the opponent’s midfield and defence.
Against Swansea in particular, the second game of the Premier League season, a late flurry of goals masked what was in fact looking like a routine 1-0 win. The difference between last year’s United and this year’s is the fact that perhaps they would have drawn that game against Swansea.
Mourinho’s men lost a lot of ground on not only the title race but also the top four last season due to drawing far too many games. When 1-0 up, they looked vulnerable and fortunes could have been different if Swansea had equalised. They had chances to do so.
However, instead, United went on to score three times in the space of four minutes – they looked hungrier than ever and had some sort of newfound confidence running through them.
Leicester at Old Trafford rounded off August, and again, it took United some time to go through the gears and find the end product they desired. Two late goals from Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini secured the win – and this time it was convincing.
The Red Devils had 69% of the possession and thoroughly dominated the Foxes – pinning them back deep inside their own half.
Into September and Man United’s hot streak momentarily dried up. They did not lose on paper, but perhaps the excitement was a tad premature given the opponents they had played.
A difficult draw at Stoke ruffled a few feathers and talk of how they are not in a position to challenge for the title. However, Stoke is never an easy place to go and picking up a point is not something to be disappointed with.
Then came the opening night of the Champions League, where United were comfortably in the driving seat – and rightly so – against Swiss champions, FC Basel. The 90 minutes were not competitive at all and United played some lovely, fluid football throughout. Happy days.
The next two results, against Everton and Burton Albion at Old Trafford, were of similar ilk, surprisingly. The Toffees normally raise their performance to the highest level against United but Ronald Koeman’s team has floundered this season.
The scoreline was perhaps easy on the eye for the fans only tuning in for the result but United were not as dominant as it suggests. However, when Mourinho’s men smell blood, they go in for the kill.
Just like against Swansea, United scored three goals in the space of nine minutes towards the end of the game. Ruthless. Another difference to this year’s team is the mentality. Perhaps last season, United would have tried to hang on for the 1-0 win but ultimately concede and squander points.
This year, they go out and get the three points – they are ice cold in their attack methods and it is sending out a clear message to rival teams.
In a role reversal to the Everton game, United started off brightly and had the game won against Burton within 20 minutes. Whether it is being merciless at the beginning or the end of matches, United seem to have that quality in abundance this year.
Away to Southampton in the Premier League was a tiresome game and not one for the end of season DVD. It was a typical defensive performance, which fans were not too pleased with. However, even though there was a lack of creativity, United came away with the three points and another resolute showing.
Football is about winning and through doing so you build up a title challenge. Not every game has to be a spectacle and against Southampton it certainly was not.
Back to the Champions League, this time in Russia. A tough place to go to as Liverpool had found out in their draw with Spartak Moscow the previous night. However, United, again, scored within five minutes and set the tone of the match, which they won with relative ease.
Just before the international break the Reds put Crystal Palace to the sword with another four goals. It seems to be a running theme this season.
United have found out that scoring early settles the team into their natural game of being on the front foot – who knew? Not every game is going to be a walk in the park but there is a stark difference from 12 months ago.
Mourinho still has a lot to do to mount a genuine title challenge; but to be level on points with City, conceding only two goals in the league and top of their Champions League group coming into October, it is a very, very strong start to the campaign.
Manchester United’s next game is against Liverpool, the first real test of how good they are, or can be. They might be undefeated throughout August and September but the biggest achievement of the season so far would going to Anfield and taking home the three points.