United back to their swashbuckling best
This was the best performance by Manchester United under Jose Mourinho. Actually, in terms of pure theatre and capturing the essence of what United teams should stand for, it was the best since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Attacking in waves at breakneck pace with a relentlessness that suffocates the opposition, this was a swashbuckling exhibition of football that showcased just how good they can be as an attacking unit when their expensive parts align so fluidly. West Ham United simply could not live with them and, in the end, were fortunate it was only 4-0. There were times last season when Manchester United dominated the lesser lights but could not score but even then they did not dominate and excite in anything like this way and, crucially, in Romelu Lukaku, they now have a striker who does not look like he is going to miss too often.
This was a dream home debut for United’s new No 9. Getting off to a good start invariably matters so much for big money signings these days and the Belgian was irresistible, announcing himself to a delirious Old Trafford by crashing a thundering strike in off a post to finish off a stunning move on the break. Then in the second half, Lukaku underlined his threat from set-pieces with a well-taken header. He could smell a hat-trick and the only disappointment was that it failed to materialise, with a good block from Pablo Zabaleta denying him a third goal.
Matic and Pogba … United’s new midfield axis
Ferguson once described Eric Cantona as the “can opener” for United back in the early 1990s and one has to wonder if Mourinho will come to apply a similar phrase to Nemanja Matic.
He might not offer the stardust of some signings but if this is the sort of liberating effect the Serbia midfielder has on Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford most notably, but also United’s other attacking players then he will become a most prized possession.
Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager, will watch this dazzling 90 minutes and wonder how badly the champions have erred by selling the 29-year-old. On this evidence, and in a chaotic transfer market, £40 million looks a steal.
The tone was set when Matic chased down Pedro Obiang, forcing the West Ham midfielder into conceding possession and set Marcus Rashford tearing off upfield, the England striker slipping the deftest of passes into Lukaku to ram home. No wonder Mourinho talked so highly of Matic in the lead up to this