Manchester United kicked off the new Premier League season in style with a 3-1 opening day win over Bournemouth, displaying everything you would come to expect from a team managed by Jose Mourinho.
United were well-organised, good in possession and created a number of chances on the way to the win and even though going forward Mourinho’s men were not as fluent as he might have hoped, there were plenty of good signs.
If nothing else, it was a huge improvement on the last time United visited Vitality Stadium – or Dean Court as it was once called – when Louis van Gaal oversaw a despondent performance and a 2-1 loss.
With all that in mind, here are five lessons from United’s Premier League opener.
MOURINHO MAKES HIS MARK
Even the most red-eyed United fans would struggle to argue that Mourinho’s Premier League return as Manchester United manager saw the return of Sir Alex Ferguson-type swashbuckling football.
Rather, this was a typical Mourinho set-up. A 4-2-3-1 with a focus on defensive organisation and a slightly more direct approach in possession.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line with Wayne Rooney in direct support behind and Anthony Martial and Juan Mata manning the left and right flanks respectively as Ander Herrera and an impressive Marouane Fellaini (he actually was quite good) held down the fort in midfield.
The Portuguese manager made excellent use of his full-backs, with Luke Shaw bombing down the left and Antonio Valencia doing so with renewed vigour down the right as he continued to impress after a solid pre-season.
Eric Bailly – another debutant – also impressed at centre-back alongside Daley Blind, and looks a dark horse for signing of the season following his impressive Community Shield performance last week.
Staying with Bailly for a second, he looks a genuinely inspired addition to a United defence previously lacking depth.
The Ivory Coast international was robust and hard in the tackle, while he was confident and skilful enough on the ball to carry the ball out of danger and get the ball rolling into midfield and beyond if the chance was there.
He scrapped hard when United were under the pump and almost always came out on top and with the ball, striking up a good working partnership with the equally impressive Blind who defied pre-season doubts about his role to play under Mourinho with a sparking performance of his own.
Whether Bailly remains as Mourinho’s first choice defender when Chris Smalling returns from suspension remains to be seen, but it is clear the United boss now has three top-notch centre-backs to pick from.
ROONEY NEEDS TO IMPROVE
Rooney scored his 246th goal in United colours to move one step closer to overtaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for the club, but there remain clouds over the skipper’s future at the club.
The England all-time record goalscorer continued to frustrate, failing to link effectively with Ibrahimovic and was caught in possession on numerous occasions.
One gets the sense that Mourinho is more than willing to give Rooney a fair chance as his first choice in the roll, but unless he drastically improves his all-round game – which he is more than capable of doing the more he plays with Ibrahimovic in this new set-up –the boss will not hesitate in swinging the axe on the captain.
If there is one positive of Rooney at number 10, it is that he is much closer to goal than he ever was as a midfielder in Van Gaal’s last days and he proved with his opportunistic header that whenever he is in and around the box, he is a chance to score regardless of how poor his game is otherwise.
Much like Rooney, Ibrahimovic did not have his best performance of the season, but he still managed to make an impact where it matters most.
The former Sweden international’s long-range strike was a fitting way to cap off his debut as he delivered once again for United following his match-winning heroics in the 2-1 Community Shield win over Leicester City last week.
Despite the goal – a moment of individual brilliance more than anything – Ibrahimovic’s failure to effectively link with his supporting cast was somewhat concerning, but not totally unexpected given how short his pre-season was with his new team-mates.
And it was largely his moments as an individual that stuck out in general, as he displayed strong hold up play to keep defenders at bay and some classy touches to bring the ball under his control under pressure. The sooner he can combine that with an intuitive link with his new team-mates, the better he will be.
FELLAINI FAVOURED (AGAIN)
There must be something the average fan just does not appreciate about the big Belgian, because he looks set for a big role in midfield under a third successive Manchester United manager.
After the game, Mourinho told reporters that fans would have to learn to “love” Fellaini – a player whose name has become synonymous with the troubled United have endured in recent years.
On the back of his display against Bournemouth, it would be hard to argue against his inclusion against Southampton on Friday.
Fellaini imposed his will on the contest in the packed midfield at Dean Court and helped United assert their dominance on the match as a whole.
He still leaves much to be desired in possession, but he led the game for tackles and was United’s go-to man for ball recovery in the middle third, complementing the craft of Herrera and the four players ahead of them perfectly.