Manchester United display new-found ability to finish teams off

Manchester United’s second match of the season saw the Red Devils pitted against a Swansea City side that offered far more than West Ham in the first week, but by full-time, the result was the same, as Jose Mourinho’s men put four goals past their helpless opposition.

Consecutive 4-0 wins are as effective of a recipe as any for successful football, but the more relieving nature of United’s performances stem from the fact that last season, there was an inherent struggle to obtain 1-0 leads, and then put teams away if the lead ever came. The result was a massive amount of draws from winning positions, or even last-gasp efforts to even the tides.

This success is a consequence of two factors that Jose Mourinho immediately addressed by signing Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic this summer, as the former has opened the attack to more variety while the latter has created a platform upon which creative players in the side can build.

The addition of Romelu Lukaku to the attack has created more opportunities for different players to score and opened the defence with quicker attacking movements. Lukaku, who is a significantly more accurate finisher than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, also offers a lot more in terms of movement than the Swedish target man, because he becomes an outlet for passes through the defence as well as holding up the ball in front of the defence.

The Belgian’s underrated hold-up play, combined with his ability to trouble defenders by running in behind, has added space for the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, and Anthony Martial, three players who have a combined four goals and seven assists in the first two matches of the season.

Marcus Rashford has almost played as a second striker from the left-wing, moving centrally as Lukaku drifts toward the right wing and combining with the Belgian to fashion chances for himself. While Rashford struggled to finish his chances in both matches, his undying energy played an integral role in allowing Martial to tear the opposition defence apart in both matches after entering the fray.

Rashford’s bread and butter is energy and work-rate, while Martial thrives with technical ability, dribbling, and finishing, making them the perfect one-two punch for a fullback. The partnership is as lethal as it is reversible, with Martial equally, if not better, at starting the match and Rashford punishing players with his ability to cause chaos in the latter minutes.

Lukaku’s presence has unlocked these talents to the same degree of new signing Nemanja Matic, who was excellent again in Wales. Matic kept his passes more simple than against West Ham due to a lack of space, but his ability to win the ball ensured that United kept the match in Swansea’s half. This, combined with the performances of United’s back four, gave the attack enough time to strike again without conceding an equalizer.

Considering the mere presence of Matic can keep United in the opposition half, one can simply ponder upon the potential pressing efforts of Matic alongside Ander Herrera. Pogba’s contribution to goals improves when Marouane Fellaini is on the pitch, as the Frenchman pushed further forward with a platform behind him.

In this sense, the natural evolution of this side would be to add Ander Herrera in midfield and push Pogba further forward, giving the Red Devils an excellent platform to control the territory of the match, prevent counter-attacks, and earn more clean sheets as the push for trophies becomes more scrappy later in the season.

United have shown the tools to destroy teams both on the counter-attack and in possession, which bodes even better for Mourinho, who is constantly aware of the potential damage dealt by the opposition. The options in this juggernaut United side are arguably the most daunting proposition of all, as the Red Devils have options to convert draws to wins by any means possible.

Attacking football, goals, and clean sheets are great, but the most appealing aspect of this United side is the unique ability to shape-shift and finish matches, as we have seen in the first two games of the Premier League season. This trait promises to make Jose Mourinho’s United a unique side with the potential to define this era of English football, and whether we see the full effects this season or not, it is very clear that United are moving in the right direction.