August 19, 2017
Manchester United have completed four seasons since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, sitting out of the race for the Premier League title each season with it ending up at Manchester City, Chelsea, Leicester City and back at Chelsea. This season, United started well with a 4-0 humiliation of West Ham United at Old Trafford, continuing their Premier League season against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon with Jose Mourinho seeking a turnaround from last season to challenge and possibly keep his second-season title win a record of his own. Under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and Mourinho, United have had some good performances post-Sir Alex Ferguson. Here is my top five:
5. Queens Park Rangers 4-0 – September 14th, 2014
Louis Van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United got off to a disastrous start. An opening day home loss against Swansea was followed up by two league draws against bottom dwellers Sunderland and Burnley. Throw in a pathetic 4-0 loss to MK Dons in the league cup, and you can imagine the pressure facing the former Barcelona man. However, Manchester United’s record signing of Angel Di Maria and the arrival of Radamel Falcao gave supporters a sense of hope and optimism. Still getting over the sting of David Moyes terrible tenure, Di Maria and Co made their home debut and gave Old Trafford faithful everything they could want and more. Sure, it was against a hapless QPR side that would go on to get relegated that season.
But the level of opposition shouldn’t take away from the performance. Di Maria was breathtaking that day. Running with the ball with a pace and purpose that conjured up images of better days. The Argentine scored the opener on a beautiful bending cross that fooled goalkeeper Robert Green. He then broke free in the open field to set up Wayne Rooney, who bumbled the ball to Ander Herrera to slot home. Rooney himself would score the third, and Di Maria again set up Juan Mata for the final goal. Four goals in 60 minutes of play and it looked like Manchester United were back. Unfortunately, the next game was the infamous 5-3 loss to Leicester City. But for a fleeting moment, all was right in the world.
4. Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 – March 15, 2015
Van Gaal’s time in charge of the club was wrought with inconsistency and lacked creativity. However, in the second half of his first season at the club, there was a small window of time when it looked like things would turn around. Going into the match, Manchester United had followed up two consecutive league wins with a bad loss against Arsenal in the FA Cup. One where former United academy product Danny Welbeck scored the winner and Di Maria would see red. This backdrop made United’s 3-0 demolition of Tottenham all the more impressive. The game started rough, with a back pass so bad that only Phil Jones could have played it, but United would find their stride. A beautiful through ball by Michael Carrick was expertly dispatched by Marouane Fellaini.
A move that showed a directness United had been sorely missing. With Di Maria absent from suspension, and very much in the manager’s dog house, Ashley Young started the game. The Englishman was fantastic on the left-wing, cutting inside and whipping balls towards Fellaini on the back post. A corner by Young towards the Belgium resulted in the second goal. With Fellaini nodding the ball back into the area, just in time for Carrick to delicately head it into the far corner. Rooney would score the third and deliver the knockout punch, literally. A turnover in midfield saw Rooney run at Tottenham’s back line with pace and power. Something that United fans hadn’t seen in a while. After slotting the ball near post, Rooney celebrated by pretending he got knocked out. An ode to the controversial kitchen sparring session he had with Phil Bardsley. A confident display from a team that hadn’t played that way in months.
3. Olympiakos 3-0 – March 19th, 2014
Robin van Persie’s first and only season under Sir Alex Ferguson was incredible. Enough to ensure that he will always remain close to United fans hearts. To say he failed to reach those same heights under David Moyes would be an understatement. Struggling with injury and never quite grasping what Moyes was trying to do tactically, Van Persie was seldom at his best. However, there was one magical Champions League night at Old Trafford against Olympiakos, where the Dutchman dazzled once again. Having lost the first leg in Greece 2-0, United had no choice but to attack from the start. Creating chance after chance, the breakthrough finally came when Van Persie was knocked over in the box. After converting the penalty, the game was on. United showed incredible fight and spirit that night. Most notably was Antonio Valencia taking a knock to the head so bad that his eye swelled up, limiting the Ecuadorian’s vision.
That didn’t stop him and fellow winger Danny Welbeck from tormenting Olympiakos up and down the flanks. As United continued to throw bodies forward, the Red Devils had to rely on the heroics of David De Gea to keep them in the game. The Spaniard made a spectacular double save to keep United within striking distance. The second goal came from a Rooney cross that was slotted into the near post by Van Persie. Throughout the season the pair struggled to play together, but there was something special in the air that night. After Welbeck won a free kick just outside of the penalty area, Van Persie completed his hat-trick with an inch-perfect free kick. United managed to hold on for the final forty minutes. Although they would get knocked out by Bayern Munich in the next round, supporters won’t soon forget a vintage United performance.
2. West Ham United 4-0 – August 13th, 2017
I promise this isn’t recency bias, but even if it is; doesn’t it feel great to get excited again? Manchester United absolutely destroyed West Ham and they did it like United of old. There was pace, power, and domination from start to finish. With two of United’s signings being the stand out players, it’s hard not to dream that they will do this all season. Romelu Lukaku was clinical in front of goal. Marcus Rashford was explosive on the counter attack. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s passing was perfection. Paul Pogba covered every blade of grass and Nemanja Matic bossed the midfield by himself. No need to break down the details of such a recent game, but when you compare this performance to the last three years, it becomes even more impressive.
1. Chelsea 2-0 – April 16th, 2017
Some may disagree with this choice, I understand that. It wasn’t a breathtaking attacking display, nor did United create chance after chance against Chelsea. There were no overhead kicks, dizzying dribbles or 20-yard screamers. However, what Manchester United did do was exactly what was needed. Chelsea came into the game on top of the league and appeared unbeatable. United, on the other hand, looked like they were resigned to missing out on the top four and shifting focus towards winning the Europa League. Despite the pessimism, Mourinho performed a tactical masterclass against a team that nobody had figured out how to stop. Using fan favorite Ander Herrera to man mark Chelsea’s best player, Eden Hazard, United squeezed the life out of their attack. Allowing zero shots on goal, United broke effectively against the oppositions back three. The first ball came from a turnover in midfield.
Herrera collected it and played a perfect through ball towards Marcus Rashford. Who calmly put the ball in the back of the net like a player ten years his senior. That was all that was needed. Herrera would add a consolation, but the game was already over. United’s performance was energetic and composed. Every player knew exactly what they were doing and executed the game plan to perfection. This game is the most impressive performance in the post-Ferguson era because, after three years of confusion, frustration, and helplessness, United fans observed a team who had fully bought into the manager’s ideas. Jose Mourinho gave United fans a vision of things to come. As great as the 4-0 wins are, it is these types of games that will make United champions again.
Written by Ben Soleim