As the second, boring international break hits the Premier League, just like with the first, United sit at the league’s summit. However this time round they share that spot with their nearest rivals City. Barring a solitary goal, they can not be divided but how do their starts really compare and how closely matched are they?
Best start since 2011.
So United have made the best start to a Premier League season for 6 years, ironically enough when we also won 6 and drew 1 of the first 7 games and Liverpool were our opponents in the 8th. Coming up next Saturday? You guessed it, Liverpool. However, the important comparison to take note of is who won the league that year, when THAT Sergio Aguero goal pinched another league title out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s grasp. The point I’m eluding to here is City posed a huge threat then and they pose an even bigger one now. At the moment it seems certain that the trophy will be heading back to Manchester and although the bookies have the blue half of the city as favourites, most pundits think it will be a tight battle to the end. There is no doubt Jose Mourinho has a better squad now than he had this time last year and he certainly has them playing the best football seen at Old Trafford for many a season. The results so far suggest United are back at the very top of the English game, but a closer look may suggest something different.
Do the results paper over the cracks?
We opened up the campaign with a 4-0 defeat of West Ham, where for half an hour the game was tight and certainly didn’t look like a 4-0 type of result was possible. 2 really late goals put a gloss on the game, something that has become a common theme so far. 3 late goals at Swansea next time out with the same result meant 2 games, 8 goals scored and 0 conceded. Jose could not have a wished for a better start. We finished August with a 2-0 win at home to Leicester including a missed penalty from Romelu Lukaku, but for the majority of this game I thought United produced their best performance of the season. They attacked with the intent and pace that was seen int he glory days. There was a different buzz around Old Trafford for the first-time in a while, positive results and plenty of goals brought a smile back to the ever-growing glum look from supporters ever since David Moyes’ backside touched the United dugout. Although a point at Stoke to open September meant dropped points for the first time this season, another 4-0 win at home to Everton, a hard fought 1-0 win away to Southampton and a final win at home to Palace to finish September ensured United’s momentum continued.
You may be thinking, what cracks? and I completely understand this mindset. 7 games, won 6, drawn 1, 2 goals conceded and 21 scored should speak for its self, but a closer look at some of the performances would not tell the same story. Everton were by far the more threatening for an hour of the game, Southampton should have got at least a point and for the majority of the 2 games, United were not as dominant as the scoreline suggests against Swansea and West Ham. Nemanja Matic has given United something extra but it may be more of attacking threat than defensive security. I am not saying by any means he is not excellent on the defensive side of his game, but if anything he has given the likes of Pogba, Rashford and Martial the extra confidence to go out and play and a bi-product of this is less protection to the defence. United fans are lucky in that the majority of the games are live but at the same time there is less places to hide and on numerous occasions, I have seen balls flash across the 6-yard box and teams looking threatening on regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time I have felt confident the win would come but in recent games, especially Everton and Southampton there was a real possibility of dropping further points.
Level pegging at the top.
City’s opening 7 games have seen them already dismantle an in-form Watford team away from home, destroy a 10 man Liverpool and dominate the champions of England in their own back yard. Their opening 3 games were patchy and their season and performances seem to change on the controversial sending off of Sadio Mane at a time when Liverpool were on top. But since then they have been irresistible. They are top of the league and already seen off 2 of the top 6 clubs in the country, with ease. United are currently City’s equal, but comparing the level of opponents played, this is far from equal. Pep’s men have already answered the questions lingering over the Etihad from last season. Their attack is as good as ever, their defence is worryingly stronger and their squad is as big and rich in quality as I have ever seen. Take Bernardo Silva as an example. He is a class act and the guy can not get a start for crying out loud!! United’s next 4 games will tell us a lot more about just how far Mourinho’s men have come since finishing down in 6th last season. They travel to Anfield next weekend, then face last seasons top 2 to finish October and start November. Sandwiched in between are 2 legs against Benfica in the Champions League and a trip to Swansea in the League Cup. Never will the “Special One” tag be more deserved than if Mourinho somehow manages to maintain the current unbeaten run and remain in serious title contention.
So how good are United this season?
I may seem to be putting a negative spin on events so far but I think it is important to be realistic rather than jump to the conclusion that the the old United are back. The results and in the main performances, are clearly an improvement to what has been seen at Old Trafford for some time. The summer signings have settled in nicely, especially Matic and Lukaku who I have mentioned given United a different attacking edge. The improved performances of Anthony Martial, continued rise of Marcus Rashford and consistency of Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all encouraging signs moving forward onto the season. I honestly don’t believe United have reached a consistent high level yet, but as the old saying goes, you can only beat what is in front of you and no one can deny they have done that. It is also seen as a sign of Champions that you can win games without playing well and able to grind out 1-0 wins when needed. There is no doubt United have tough tests to come but also that there will be a time where City do not play at full tilt and blow every team away. Injuries will happen, suspensions and distractions of Europe will come in to play for all clubs, so let’s see who can handle the pressure when it comes to it. City are in a very similar position to this time last year when the title was almost conceded until the wheels came off. In contrast, United are much improved and no one can argue that they pose their biggest threat to the title since Sir Alex left the club. So for now, I am taking the positives out of the first 7 games and look forward to seeing how we perform over the next month, I hope that I can write that we are still battling for top position.