By Matthew Galea
After a week from hell, Manchester United have well and truly got back into the swing of things with as clinical a dismantling of the reigning Premier League champions as you are ever likely to see.
It goes without saying that the heroics of Leicester City were never likely to be repeated for a second-straight season, but that should not make Jose Mourinho’s United performance against Claudio Ranieri’s side any less impressive.
If it was against Leicester that Mourinho’s second Chelsea stint came to an unglorious end, it could be against the same opponent that Mourinho’s United finally found its best against.
Here are five lessons we took from the 4-1 hammering of the champions.
HERRERA-POGBA AXIS EXCELS
Getting the balance right in midfield has easily been Mourinho’s most difficult task since taking over at Manchester United.
The late arrival of Paul Pogba complicated matters while the insistence of playing Wayne Rooney as a number 10 further hampered United’s fluidity through the middle of the park.
But the selection of Ander Herrera, who’s mobility and greater skill than Marouane Fellaini, seemed to free Pogba to roam further up the pitch, where the talents of Juan Mata better complemented the Frenchman.
The Spaniard – not so obsessed with getting involved in EVERY UNITED POSSESSION – moved intelligently between the lines to make space for Pogba who was ruthless when he got into advanced positions.
And while Herrera got around the park to do much of the dirty work, his neat distribution meant Pogba did not have to stay so close to him, as he usually has had to with Fellaini.
Pogba revelled in the freedom, putting in his most influential display yet, creating a plethora of chances and sweeping the ball from one side of Old Trafford to the other with consummate ease.
With the world’s most expensive player even grabbing his first goal for United, one can only hope that this is the start of the reign of Pogba at Old Trafford.
BLIND LEADING THE BLIND
It would probably be fair to say that Manchester United have not excelled at corners in recent history.
Rooney, Antonio Valencia, Mata, Ashley Young and even Phil Jones have had a crack at them, but few would have been able to match Daley Blind for efficiency.
The Dutchman proved himself corner-taker supreme as United scored three (3. Yes, actually three) goals from corners on Saturday.
I struggle to remember three goals direct from corners in the last three seasons put together!
Blind might not have even played had Luke Shaw not pulled up sore from the 3-1 loss to Watford last week, but with such dangerous delivery from corners, it might be hard to drop him now, whether he plays as a centre-back of left-back.
NO ROOM FOR ROONEY
I will preface this by saying I think Rooney still has a role to play at Manchester United.
But it is clear now that he is not in the frame to start another Premier League game until he proves his form in one of the lesser competitions.
United looked a far more versatile outfit with Mata playing in his most natural position than they ever looked with Rooney there.
Whereas Rooney wants to be involved in every move, Mata knew when to get involved and when to move wide and drag his opponent with him to open up the centre of the park for Pogba and Herrera to exploit.
The Spaniard even got on the goalscoring action in a brilliant display.
Rooney’s talents – he still has them – should be given a chance in the EFL Cup and the Europa League, but not in the Premier League until he gets his form up to scratch.
At least he can get the balls out for the warm up…
Strikingly, it was one of the very issues Mourinho was picked on for criticising his own players about that made United so strikingly effective at Old Trafford.
Last week, Mourinho was smashed by the press for calling out Shaw and others for not closing down opponents in Premier League losses to Manchester City and Watford.
But that criticism must have been worth something, because there was not a Leicester player on the pitch that could relax on the ball.
United swarmed Leicester with an incredibly high press in the first half and that pressure kept Leicester in their own half – with only long balls to their isolated front two their only respite – turned to corners which turned to goals.
Maybe Mourinho knows what he is talking about after all.
RASHFORD CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
Is Rashford the best product to come out of the United academy since the Class of 92?
The question seems a fair one to ask after Rashford again found the scoresheet.
Since the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes came through the Academy, United have never shied away from giving youth a chance, but most of the real success stories were procured from other clubs.
Cristiano Ronaldo became a global superstar at United, but he arrived with plenty of hype from Sporting Lisbon.
Rooney also arrived at United as a teenager but was already a star from his time at Everton.
Rashford, however, is United born and bred and if his career can continue on its current trajectory, he could one day be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and maybe even the Busby Babes.