José Mourinho has been quick to stress that Manchester United are anything but a “dream team” but his players have made a perfect start to the season, collecting maximum points, scoring freely, failing to concede and looking like a side that have all the credentials to mount a legitimate challenge for the Premier League title.
These are early days, of course, and United will face much tougher examinations than those posed by West Ham United and Swansea in their opening two fixtures, yet there is something ominous about the fact that they have started with back-to-back 4-0 victories. Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial have scored in each of those matches and Eric Bailly now has his first goal for the club and his first in league football in 67 attempts.
It was Bailly who set United on the way to victory here, scoring just before half-time against a Swansea side that capitulated in the final 10 minutes. United struck three goals in four minutes during that period, courtesy of Lukaku, Pogba and Martial, laying bare the weaknesses in a Swansea squad that is crying out for investment on the back of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s departure.
The Icelander’s transfer to Everton, together with the absence of Fernando Llorente, who is still recovering from breaking his arm in a cycling accident in the close season, means that Swansea are without two players who contributed more than half of their Premier League goals last season. The fact that have failed to score in their opening two matches, and rarely looked like doing so, says it all.
It had actually started as one of those days when United needed to be patient, although for periods in the first half their frustration got the better of them. Marcus Rashford showed flashes of brilliance but also moments of petulance while Pogba was playing with fire when he clumsily fouled Martin Olsson. Already on a yellow card following a poor challenge on Tom Carroll, the Frenchman escaped with a telling-off. Had he not already been booked, it is easy to imagine that Jon Moss, the referee, would have shown a card.
Set up with a three-man central defence in which Kyle Bartley started his first Premier League game for 20 months, Swansea sat deep and soaked up the United pressure, threatening only sporadically on the counterattack, yet the home team could have been ahead inside three minutes. Cutting in from the left and with the angle against him, Jordan Ayew curled the ball with the outside of his boot and it glanced off the top of the bar. Whether it was a shot or a cross is unclear but David de Gea was caught in no man’s land.
Six minutes later United struck the woodwork. Juan Mata’s fine free-kick picked out Phil Jones and the central defender, who was totally unmarked, ought to have scored. Instead the ball came off his shoulder and hit the crossbar almost in slow motion. United were not so forgiving with a set piece later in the half. This time it was Daley Blind’s corner that exposed some poor marking in the Swansea defence, leaving Pogba with a free header. The Frenchman’s effort was flicked on to the bar via Lukasz Fabianski’s fingertips, bounced on the line and Bailly, reacting much quicker than Federico Fernández, who seemed to be expecting the Swansea keeper to jump to his feet, stabbed home.
It was an awful time for Swansea to concede, although Rashford could and probably should have opened the scoring 10 minutes earlier when he ran on to a wayward header from Alfie Mawson. Bearing down on goal with only Fabianski to beat, Rashford tried to lift the ball over the Swansea keeper but succeeded only in chipping it into his arms. At the other end Bartley headed narrowly wide from Carroll’s corner.
Bailly’s goal meant Swansea had to show more attacking conviction and they had a chance on the hour mark to equalise. Carroll, finding space on the left, floated in a cross that Tammy Abraham headed over. United seemed to playing within themselves a little, almost coasting, and were fortunate to get away with another Carroll delivery, this time from a corner, that somehow eluded everyone.
Then came the flurry of late United goals. Lukaku, set up by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and with all the time in the world, swept the ball past Fabianski from 12 yards. Pogba then made it 3-0, intercepting Carroll’s wayward pass, before playing a one-two with Mkhitaryan and cleverly lifting the ball over Fabianski. Martial, set up by the rampaging Pogba, calmly slotted in the fourth and United were rampant.
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