By Matthew Galea
There has been plenty to like already about Manchester United under Jose Mourinho.
Even before Saturday’s 1-0 win over Hull City, Mourinho had overseen an impressive start to the Premier League season and while the eventual scoreline does not seem like much to write home about, it did tick another box United fans have been longing to see.
The famous last minute winner in “Fergie Time”.
Saturday’s win delivered that and much more as United remain perfect heading into the international break. Here are five lessons we took from the game.
ROONEY DELIVERS. AGAIN
There is no player at any club anywhere around the world that has given what Wayne Rooney has given to Manchester United, but still has to go out there every week and prove himself as if it is his first time wearing the shirt.
The truth is, Rooney is yet to put in a 90-minute shift this season that has made many stand up and say, “you know what, this bloke is undoubtedly worth his spot in the starting XI,” but once again he has produced one moment that has made a telling difference.
He did it in the season opener against Bournemouth when he scored a well-taken header in an otherwise forgettable performance, he did it against Southampton when he produced the best cross of the game to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic to open the scoring on the knock of half-time and – most importantly – he did it on Saturday to set up Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time winner.
Even when he does not have an amazing 90 minutes, Rooney almost always produces one moment that helps United score.
Rooney’s service to United – even with the transfer requests he has handed in – has been simply amazing and yet we still demand that he proves his worth each and every time he plays for United.
But equally, he also delivers when we need him most. That is why Mourinho kept him on the pitch when most fans – on Twitter at least – were demanding he come off and that is why he was able to produce the moment that put the winner on a silver platter for Rashford.
No one is going to state the case that Rooney is world class or in the same bracket as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but no one can claim that he has no place in the United starting XI.
RASHFORD NO FLASH IN THE PAN
Rashford might have had Rooney to thank for his tap-in winner in stoppage time, but the teenage striker was a real difference maker for United.
Just as United’s efforts to break through a packed Hull defence started to look a bit stale, Mourinho’s impeccably timed decision to bring the England international into the fray completely changed United’s attacking dynamics.
The youngster ran hard at his opponents, causing uncertainty in a Hull defence that loathed his pace and direct running. United were well and truly knocking down the door before his but Rashford was the lock-pick.
As older, more experienced players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba looked to shoot at every opportunity through a crowded penalty area, Rashford was more probing – with and without the ball – looking for the almost non-existent crevasses and gaps in a well-organised Hull defence.
His goal was a perfect reward for those efforts. As soon as Rooney got the better of his marker on the left, Rashford galloped for the near post just in time to meet the captain’s delightful ball and remind Mourinho and United fans alike that the youngster’s efforts last season were no flash in the pan.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF 1-0
Under Louis van Gaal, a 1-0 win was probably a little more common than United might have liked and while the club will not want to make a habit of it under Mourinho, there was a stark difference to how the latter and his team approached the dying stages of the game.
Van Gaal, would have preached patience as United passed the ball around the opposition looking for the high-percentage ball by shifting the opponent across the field from side to side and trying to draw them out by going backwards.
Under Mourinho, United’s approach was not so subtle.
Instead of picking a probing the Hull defence, United pummelled it with assault after assault until, finally Rooney created the space and Rashford converted his chance.
FERGIE TIME RETURNS
And what a moment it was when Rashford pounced.
It is funny, but only three games into Mourinho’s reign, there was an air of inevitability about it. Something that was never there under Van Gaal.
On Saturday, when the extra four minutes of stoppage time, I watched and thought, “we’ll win this,” under Van Gaal, the thought would barely have crossed my mind.
United have long been known for their last-minute goal antics and it was refreshing to see them deliver on that front again.
Mourinho even said we can keep calling it, “Fergie Time”!
Fair play, Jose.
FELLAINI TROUBLES AHEAD?
I never thought I would be writing this three games into the Premier League season, but United might have a problem in midfield following news of Marouane Fellaini’s back injury.
The Belgian further endeared himself to United fans as he formed a one-man wall in midfield that did not let Hull advance beyond the half-way line on too many occasions.
Hull tried to go over him, they tried to go under him but they just could not find a way past the big man.
And if his performance was not enough to convince the fans, then his efforts to help a woman at the bottom of the pile of United fans celebrating Rashford’s late winner with the players was.
Unfortunately, Mourinho reported he picked up a “bad” back muscle injury that could rule Fellaini out for weeks.
Hopefully the international break gives him some time to recover, but if he does not get back in time for the Manchester derby on the other side of the international matches, Mourinho will have a big hole to fill in midfield.