Manchester United opened their 2018-19 Premier League campaign versus Leicester City on Friday 10th August, almost six years removed from their previous League title win; their longest wait for a Championship since 1992-93.
Jose Mourinho wanted more signings during the summer transfer window but the wished for a centre-back and right-sided midfielder never arrived.
If Mourinho is to deliver success this season, he needs to do so with what he considers an incomplete squad. This article looks at five things Mourinho and the United faithful will have learned from the opening match of the season.
1. Alexis Sanchez should start on the left side of midfield on a consistent basis
Jose Mourinho’s most recent attacking signing, the January acquisition from Arsenal, former Barcelona man, Alexis Sanchez showed his class on Friday night.
Mourinho spent last season alternating between Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford on the left side of midfield with little consistency. After an unconvincing beginning to his United career, Sanchez has impressed in pre-season and showed versus Leicester with his energy, tricks, runs and crosses, that he is the best option United have in his position.
It was Sanchez on the front foot and his shot which was hand-balled in the third minute which led to United taking an early lead.
United can be successful in 2018-19. If they are, then Sanchez will be one of the focal reasons.
2. Marcus Rashford is not a striker
Despite breaking onto the scene as a prolific centre-forward with four goals in his first two matches for the Manchester United first team, as Marcus Rashford has developed it has become clear his primary position should be on the wing.
Rashford’s electric pace and crossing accuracy are superior to his shooting and ability to consistently get into goal-scoring positions. This was plain to see versus Leicester City as Rashford despite playing up-front, not once touched the ball in the opposition box and had zero shots on target. Romelu Lukaku will remain as United’s centre-forward talisman.
3. Bailly and Lindelof can be United’s first choice centre-backs
Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof only played 99 minutes together as a centre-back partnership in 2017-18. However, versus Leicester City, they proved that they should be the first choice pairing for Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho desperately tried to add another centre-back to his squad in the transfer window, with Leicester’s Harry Maguire, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Jerome Boateng linked most frequently.
None arrived, but the solutions lie in Mourinho’s squad already. Bailly and Lindelof were assured in possession, strong in the tackle and looked untroubled against a strong counter-attacking team. This pair may have saved United’s board £80 million.
4. Manchester United should continue to play on the front foot
Manchester United were criticised in 2017-18 for being too passive and negative in possession as they seldom attacked in the cavalier fashion synonymous with the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
New midfield signing Fred was the spark that built United from the back to attack quickly in their opening fixture. Leicester City were visibly shocked by United’s fast start which led to the panic in the box and the handball leading to the penalty in the first few minutes.
United attacked at will when they had the ball, always looking for the forward pass. Fred, for his part, earned a standing ovation on his full debut from the Old Trafford faithful. This performance should convince Mourinho to stick to his 4-3-3 formation and attacking intent. It should bring dividends