In the face of such overwhelming hype, there is a tendency to shrug off the excitement of a new football season and to pretend one has outgrown such things. The reality when the games began this weekend could hardly have been more different. The Premier League, and Manchester United in particular, delivered emphatically. Suddenly football is enjoyable all over again.
Jose Mourinho was “nervous”, he admitted before kick off, and had taken the unusual step of trying to dampen expectations by saying the side would “not start like a train.” After a few years of hearing managers hedge their bets, United fans allowed a hint of scepticism to enter their thoughts.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cocky, self-assured strike to make it three nil dispelled all doubt. Despite winning the FA Cup last season, I felt somewhat robbed of the joy of victory by the parade of dullness that had preceded it, not to mention the unsavoury way in which Louis va Gaal was disposed of afterwards.
This is not a pure and innocent Manchester United of course. This is the club who sells itself at every opportunity and is seeing itself become consumed by the model of the investment-banking world. Nonetheless, at least it was fun for a couple of hours.
The two big psychological shifts Mourinho brings with him were evident in this game. Firstly, they seemed to have a steeliness about them. The 4-2-3-1 formation kept the defence protected and Bournemouth had few chances to test David de Gea. Their goal, when it came, was a screamer and there are no arguments.
There was also a general efficiency about United that kept the crowd calm. In the past three years that sense of assurance was missing. Nobody expected a Ferguson team to give up. There were times under David Moyes and Van Gaal when the nervousness of the crowd seemed to infect the team.
Under Jose Mourinho that trepidation has gone. Once more the team is expected to win. A large part of this comes from Ibrahimovic too. This was an away match in a traditional old ground, it will be interesting to see how Old Trafford reacts to the new manager’s presence. One hopes the excitement and confidence will be in abundance there too.
A look around the weekend’s matches provides some interesting viewing. Liverpool, as I suspected, are going to be a handful this year. If they can sort out their goalkeeper situation I expect them to challenge strongly for the title.
The mood in north London, where I find myself this week, was fairly downbeat after the 3-4 loss. Arsenal fans in my circle have largely expressed a ‘Wenger In’ sentiment. That could change this week though and I expect the Gunners to go into the market in the coming days.
This is a season I am looking forward to in general. It feels like it has been a while.
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