By Adam Joseph
It wasn’t mesmerising, it wasn’t ground breaking and it wasn’t 90 minutes of unplayable football. But the victory over Southampton on Friday night at Old Trafford might have been the first time in three years that Manchester United fans truly enjoyed a game of football.
Sure there were highs among the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal era. The 5-0 win over Olympiakos, the rival wins against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool notwithstanding, but it was always part of such a tumultuous period it didn’t feel the way United football should. That darkness still lingered.
The skies around the club are clearing though, and seemingly endless boredom has been replaced by equal amounts of enthusiasm and renewed optimism. Already it is not hard to see an aura returning to the club not seen since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge.
Shirts formerly won by Jonny Evans and Radamel Falcao are now occupied by Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (now that Anthony Martial has become the rightful inheritor of Ryan Giggs number 11). It’s a considerable upgrade and a whole new world.
Jose Mourinho has certainly brought the charisma back to the club as many assumed he would when he was appointed. This is only the beginning though and even with good signs early, Mourinho knows that there is still a long way to go.
“At this moment, it’s even more important to show evolution in our game and I think we are showing that. I agree we are not playing superb but I think anyone can see there are differences in relation to the past two or three years.”
It might have been an abject first half display, but from Ibrahimovic’s superb opening header late in the first half United grew into the game from there. In the second half there was a 15 minute period where they were streaming forward, and Southampton could not get near them defensively.
Pogba’s deep driving runs were combined with Anthony Martial’s inside running from the left side of the attack, Juan Mata’s free roaming from the right and Ibrahimovic spearheading the attack. It was stunning viewing, and a preview of what is to come.
The likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Memphis and others were not involved from the beginning or at all, and those selections dilemmas are something else that are a pleasant surprise and change this season. In years gone by, it was more about putting together a reasonable eleven rather than now when some wonder if they’ll make the squad at all.
Mkhitaryan’s lack of presence in the starting eleven thus far has raised some concern, but barring the Armenian not appearing for the foreseeable future there is no real reason to worry. It is not unusual for new signings to not be thrown in the deep end immediately, and his past history should reveal why his boss has made this choice.
After joining Borussia Dortmund from Shakhtar Donetsk for £21.5 million in 2013, Mkhitaryan struggled in his first campaign as adjusting to his new league proved difficult. It’s not out of the question to consider this is part of Mourinho’s reasoning.
Combined with the fact that Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial have places in the team alongside the ever present Wayne Rooney means there is no need to rush the reigning Bundesliga Player of the Year. That being said, it would not surprise to see him more involved against Hull City on Saturday.
The Reds will be looking for more improvement this weekend on their road trip to visit Mike Phelan’s men, who are enjoying an unbeaten start to their season with wins over Champions Leicester City and a win away to Swansea City. Former United man Phelan will be motivated to get the points against his ex-club.
Two incomplete displays have still resulted in two good wins, both by more than one goal. The defence has been fairly solid and Eric Bailly has gone from strength to strength. If this is not a mirage, the team has bagged themselves an incredible player and athlete,perhaps even worthy of inheriting Rio Ferdinand’s position in the team.
Mourinho will also likely be trimming his squad in the lead up to the transfer window shutting until January, with a few outcasts to go. Bastian Schweinsteiger has reportedly said he is not leaving, and his wages in excess of £240,000 per week may be a hint as to why he’s in no hurry to leave.
Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones appear to be the others set to depart, with Mata and Daley Blind no longer on the chopping block thanks to hard work that has shown their boss that they deserve a place in the team. The squad is still sizeable, and Mourinho is looking forward to more games coming after the window closes to rotate his burgeoning squad.
“I have so many good players,” Mourinho said. “I need September because all these guys need to play, they deserve to play. So Darmian, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jones, okay Smalling today he was already with us, Marcos Rojo, Romero, then Herrera, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Ashley Young, Memphis Depay, Marcus Rashford. We have a big squad and a top quality squad so I need September urgently.”
For now the focus turns to Saturday, as the team looks to maintain their 100 percent record. The team will look to take it’s next step under their new manager, as fans look forward and relish getting to enjoy their football once again.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
Follow him on twitter @AdamJosephSport