August Takeaway: Three key lessons for Manchester United from the opening three matches of the season

A title is never won or lost in the month of August, but that won’t stop Manchester United fans from dreaming. A 2-0 home win over Leicester City sees United finish up the opening month on top of the table. Right where they belong. While it is true that the Red Devils had the same amount of points at this time last season, the performances have been a notch above. With the international break just around the corner, here are three important takeaways from United’s opening fixtures.

1. Phil Jones and Eric Bailly could become a classic centre-back partnership

While the post-Ferguson era has been dominated by poor results and boring attacking displays, United’s defensive record remained quite solid. However, maintaining their defensive stability often came at the expense of attacking options. While many things could be to blame, the lack of a consistent center back pairing is certainly high up on the list. The arrival of Victor Lindelöf from Benfica this summer seemed to be the answer, but the Swedish internationals pre-season struggles have seen Phil Jones take a spot next to mainstay Eric Bailly. The early returns are positive. If you add in the pre-season, a Jones-Bailly combination at the back hasn’t allowed a goal in 405 minutes of play, and Jose Mourinho has taken notice.

In an interview with the Manchester Evening News following their win against Leicester City, Mourinho explained “[w]e didn’t have many matches last season where we play 90 minutes with the control we have today.” The “control” that Mourinho speaks of, was always a hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best sides. Beginning with a stable center back pairing that freed up United to flood forward and overwhelm the opposition. While injury concerns remain for both Bailly and Jones, a long run in the team could see them develop into one of the best center back pairings in the league.

2. Paul Pogba is ready to dominate in any formation

The arrival of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea this summer was supposed to bring United a lot of things. Experience, steel, intelligence, to name a few. But most of all, he was tasked with freeing up Paul Pogba. The former most expensive player in the world was often bogged down last season with defensive responsibility. While Mourinho switched back of forth between a three-man midfield and a two-man midfield, Pogba never quite found his footing. Now, with the addition of Matic, early season returns suggest that Pogba is ready to do more than just thrive. He is ready to dominate. Against Leicester City, Pogba was all over the place.

Making late runs into the box and firing shot after shot from deep. Always doing so with the confidence that Matic, and an improved Bailly-Jones combination at the back, could stop any counter attack on their own. Matic’s influence also allows United to play with a two-man midfield, with an extra attacker against the lesser teams. While you shouldn’t be surprised if Mourinho opts for a three-man midfield, including Ander Herrera, against the bigger teams, the success of Pogba and co. in a 4-2-3-1 could be key to breaking down lesser opponents. Turning draws into wins.

3. Manchester United have the attacking flexibility to win the title

The Premier League is one of the most difficult leagues in the world. Not because it has all the best players, but because of the tactical diversity within the league. To win it, you need to be able to score against teams who can press, counter, counter-press and sit-deep. As a result, teams need to be able to score a variety of goals in a variety of situations. If August has shown us anything, it is that United finally have the team capable of doing just that. Against West Ham, United were devastating on the counter. Their speed and physicality ripped the Hammers apart. Away at Swansea, the Welsh club was determined to sit deep and defend.

So, United scored from a corner, opening the game up and forcing the opposition out of their bunker. As the Swans began to move forward, United darted behind them and turned a 1-0 into 4-0 in a matter of minutes. Against Leicester City, United kept throwing all of their attacking options at them until, 70 minutes in, the dam finally broke. In three games, United have scored ten goals with six different goal scorers, Henrik Mkhitaryan is tied for most assists in Premier League history through three games with five, and four of their goals were scored by substitutes. No matter the situation, United have what it takes to score.

While the month of August has been very kind to the Red Devils, it is still only three games. However, that doesn’t mean that United supporters shouldn’t enjoy it. Because the greatest takeaway from this month is not the goals or the clean sheets. It is the renewed sense of optimism that has filled the stands at Old Trafford once again. Reminding all of them, just how beautiful this game can be.

Written by Ben Soleim


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