Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic shine in new-look Man Utd
Last Updated: 14/08/17 12:18pm
Could Manchester United's 4-0 thrashing of West Ham signal a new dawn for Jose Mourinho's side? We examine the signs of transformation after they kicked off their Premier League campaign in style.
Mourinho's starting line-up against West Ham only featured two new faces but the difference from last season could hardly have been more striking. In place of ponderousness and profligacy, there was power and purpose. And in front of a buoyant Old Trafford crowd, Manchester United enjoyed their biggest Premier League win since September 2014.
Mourinho insisted there was room for improvement in his post-match press conference and he is right to be cautious, but he will also take immense satisfaction from the transformative impact of his summer signings. Nemanja Matic marshalled the midfield with man-of-the-match excellence, while Romelu Lukaku looked every bit a £75m striker as he dominated West Ham's backline.
The Belgian's goals showed exactly what he brings to Mourinho's side. For the first, he demonstrated his explosive acceleration to latch onto Marcus Rashford's reverse pass and blast a first-time finish in off Joe Hart's near post. For the second, he leapt high above West Ham's defenders to flick home Henrikh Mkhitaryan's free-kick.
United's failure to finish chances was their undoing in games such as these last season, but Lukaku didn't need a second invitation. He scored with each of his shots on target, and by the end of the game he was a desperate West Ham block away from becoming the first Premier League player since Fabrizio Ravanelli to score a hat-trick on his debut.
"There was real purpose about him today," said Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness afterwards. "We questioned him and whether he would be able to do it every week, but he's now put a marker down. That's how he's got to be for this crowd. He was fabulous today."
Matic was arguably even more influential. The Serb had more touches, played more passes, won more duels and even completed more dribbles than any other player on the pitch. There was no goal or assist, but it was his challenge on Pedro Obiang that started the counter-attack for the first goal, and he was involved in the build-up to the fourth, too.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his performance, however, was the way in which he unleashed Pogba. His discipline and defensive diligence gave the Frenchman freedom to charge forwards, and he also provided a steady supply line to his midfield partner. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Matic found Pogba with more passes (14) than anyone else.
"I still can't believe Chelsea have let him go," said Gary Neville. "It just does not make sense. I thought he was outstanding today. He did everything really well. We've seen him a lot over the years but I thought he was better on the ball than I've seen him before. He was really composed and you have to say that his passing was good."
"I played as a holding midfield player and he's arguably the best around at this time," added Souness. "The untrained eye doesn't always see the value players in that position bring to the team, but I think we saw a bit of everything from him today. He was good going forward and good holding."
Pogba was not the only player who appeared to enjoy playing with his new team-mates. Rashford and Anthony Martial dovetailed nicely with the similarly speedy Lukaku, while Mkhitaryan also impressed. With a mobile target man to aim for, the Armenian contributed two assists and created the most chances (five) he has ever managed in a Premier League game.
I still can't believe Chelsea have let him go. It just does not make sense.
Gary Neville on Nemanja Matic
United's attacking play was slick and West Ham couldn't cope with their physicality, either. With Matic and Lukaku adding height and strength to the team, United were able to dominate their opponents in the air. Mourinho's side won 25 aerial duels to West Ham's 15. For context, they only bettered that total on three occasions over the whole of last season.
"I've never seen this league being won without the power and pace and without there being a really strong spine," said Neville. "Looking at Manchester United now, it does seem like they've got that. It's only day one, but they do look like they've got the attributes to mount a challenge for the Premier League title. They look like they've got everything."
Neville knows far tougher challenges lie ahead and so too does Mourinho, but this opening day victory was the perfect way to get started. As they gear up for the season ahead, the early evidence suggests Matic and Lukaku are the right men to lead the way.