With £89 million signing Paul Pogba also making his long awaited second Manchester United and Old Trafford debut, we take a look at five things we learned from the Red Devils’ first home game of the season.
Rooney and Ibrahimović improving
After Jose Mourinho again opted to start with both Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimović in United’s attack, all eyes were on the pair once again as the two striker’s set about building upon the initial chemistry displayed in the team’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth last week.
If Friday’s display is anything to go off, the budding understanding between the two strikers seems to be getting stronger by the week, with the two enigmatic frontmen repeatedly linking up throughout the course of the game.
Indeed, it was even Wayne Rooney – temporarily filling in on the right wing for United – who put the ball in for Zlatan’s first, finding the towering Swedish striker with a sweetly-struck, out-swinging cross into the box.
Whilst it is still early days in terms of commenting on how the two are going to feature together long-term, the early signs are certainly very promising, with Ibrahimović and Rooney already having scored a combined four goals in United’s first two league games – three for Ibrahimović and one for Rooney.
With harder tests still to come however, and the much-anticipated Manchester derby in just two fixture’s time, United fans will certainly be hoping that the pair can maintain their stellar form heading forwards - and continue to build upon the very promising signs that they have shown already.
Pogba’s instant impact
Despite Rooney and Ibrahimović’s impressive performances once again – not to mention the talisman Swede’s two goals on the night – if the pair were hoping to be the centre of attention, then they will be bitterly disappointed. That honour belonged to one man, and one man alone, Paul Pogba.
Making his long-awaited Old Trafford debut, having re-signed for the club just last week in a record breaking £89 million deal, Pogba certainly seemed both in amazing shape – bearing in mind his extended holiday, and transfer saga – and ready to justify the mammoth fee.
A constant thorn in the side of Southampton, with his physical presence, power on the ball, impressive jumping ability, and silky skills, Pogba proved a handful for the Saint’s defence from the starting minute till the last.
Some had also raised concerns over where Pogba was going to fit into the team, also questioning how the talented Frenchman was going to fare playing alongside fellow superstars Rooney, Ibrahimović, Martial, and Mata in United’s attack.
This question appears to have been answered however, with Pogba having linked up numerous times with all of the above throughout the course of the game, whilst also impressing in his slightly deeper role alongside fellow midfield giant Marouane Fellaini.
For a man with a lot of performing to do before he will even begin to justify the amount of money spent on him, Pogba certainly made an instant impact on both the mentality and playing style of Manchester United – as well as more than a few of the Old Trafford faithful.
Mkhitaryan will bring welcome pace
Despite, on the whole, being a game of numerous positives for Manchester United, there was one slight issue that was raised by a number of people whilst watching United try to break down the resolute Saint’s defence. A lack of pace when attacking.
Whilst winger Anthony Martial is as quick as any – both on and off the ball – and United possess pace in abundance in the form of their two full backs, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw, there was times in the game when the United front line appeared to lack the lightning speed needed to catch teams on the break.
Ibrahimović – at a little over 6 foot 5 inches – certainly provides a physical target up front, but when combined with both Rooney and Mata as part of an attacking four, the trio can sometimes be found wanting when it comes to running at a man whilst their team is on the break.
Considering that Mourinho still has Henrikh Mkhitaryan to introduce to the starting line-up however, this is unlikely to be a problem for long – with the pacey Armenian widely expected to make his full debut against Hull next week.
With Ibrahimović and Rooney playing through the middle, and Martial and Mkhitaryan occupying the two wide roles, United are sure to not be lacking in pace in attack for too long – and with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford still to feature fully this campaign – Mourinho is certainly not short on options.
Martial and Shaw still to improve
Whilst both having turned in impressive individual performances in each of their first two appearances this season, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial are two more players who are having to rapidly develop a level of understanding.
Shaw missed almost the entirety of last season due to a double leg fracture suffered in a Champions League tie against PSV Eindhoven. As a result of this, the two talented young wide players have had precious little time to develop an understanding on the field.
Although there were some signs today that the pair were acclimatising to each other’s presence down United’s left flank, there was also several occasions on which the pair seemed slightly out of synch – in terms of whether to play the ball on the overlap, or cut in field.
Despite these few occasions of miscommunication between both Shaw and Martial, their overall performances were very impressive. And once the two have had a little more game-time – and a little more of a chance to get used to one another’s playing styles – their performances are sure to go from strength to strength.
Old habits die hard for Mourinho
Jose Mourinho will no doubt be delighted to have gotten his first Old Trafford win under his belt, and in some style too. Underneath the star performances and flashy goals however, there were still a few signs that this was still very much a Mourinho performance of old.
Having scored their second goal of the game in the 52nd minute, United were very much in the ascendancy for the following 15 or so minutes as the visitors reeled from going two goals down.
Heading into the final 20 minutes however, United seemed all to glad to sit back on their haunches, and invite pressure onto themselves – repeatedly forcing Southampton wide, knowing full well they possessed the aerial advantage in the centre of the pitch.
Whilst some might look at this as over-confidence – or even arrogance – Mourinho is sure to view it as a hard-fought win, over a team who are more than comfortable both on the ball, as well as when counter attacking at speed.
Whichever way you choose to view however, there is no denying that Mourinho has already laid down a marker for the rest of the Premier League with his first two games in charge of Manchester United.
And with five goals scored, only one conceded, and most importantly of all, six points on the board, it is a marker that is already looking to have title-winning credentials written all over it.