The last time Manchester United managed to win their first three league games of the season, they were imperious in attack and exhilarating with the ball. Those encounters yielded thirteen goals, eight of which were scored against a hapless Arsenal side at Old Trafford. The ruthless nature of their finishing was well documented and that in turn, epitomised the philosophy they believed in and the principles they propagated.
Five years down the line, they managed to achieve that target once again, albeit with a much changed set up and a new manager at the helm. This time though, they were made to toil endlessly by a Hull City side praised for their performances on the pitch, despite having had countless issues off of it. They defended stoically and were led by example by their captain Curtis Davies in front of a vibrant KCOM crowd. Sadly, for their vociferous support, the resistance was broken a minute into stoppage time when Wayne Rooney’s enterprising run and subsequent cross was tapped in by the substitute, Marcus Rashford. The 18-year-old sent the away end into raptures and sparked animated scenes in the dugout for Jose Mourinho and his staff too, reminding the Premier League of their age-old ability to deliver a hammer blow late into seemingly unwinnable games.
It was a clean sheet and three precious points for the visitors but they were frustrated throughout the course of the game as all they failed to do in regulation time was put the ball in the back of the net. The first half was a quiet one for both goalkeepers, with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s looping header being the closest. Wayne Rooney spurned a chance of his own when a chaotic situation in the box led to the likes of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore putting their bodies on the line to keep the Englishman and his expensively assembled team at bay.
Hull were dealt a huge blow early into the second period when Robert Snodgrass pulled up with a thigh problem, having tussled with Daley Blind at one stage in the first half. From that point onwards, it was one-way traffic as United camped themselves in City’s half. Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney took turns to strike from distance but weren’t able to test Eldin Jakupovic. The introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford for Martial and Juan Mata changed the landscape of the game deep into normal time and with the hosts putting on a valiant and committed display to thwart their counterparts, it seemed like it would not be a pleasant evening for Mourinho and his men.
As it ultimately transpired, though, United grabbed the goal their efforts merited and entered the international break on a high. There were plenty of things to discuss at the KCOM stadium, a few of which have been elaborated below-
The young English sensation captured the attention of the footballing spectrum with a brace on his Premier League debut against Arsenal and made a strong impact on replacing Juan Mata. His pacy and direct runs were difficult for Hull’s backline to counter. He tested Jakupovic with a bent effort towards the far post and linked up brilliantly with Henrikh Mkhitaryan at times. As one would expect from a striker, though, Rashford’s instincts galvanized him to stab Wayne Rooney’s low cross home and seal an important victory for his side. It remains to be seen whether that is enough for him to merit a start in the Manchester derby next month but the signs are promising and Mourinho will definitely include him for games in the foreseeable future.
Much was said when Louis van Gaal made Daley Blind a centre-half at the beginning of last season. Despite lacking power and height, the Dutchman’s ability to read the game and intercept dangerous passes has been an asset ever since he started playing in that position. He shut out Abel Hernandez and Adama Diomande each time they came forward and was aided by his partner’s aggressive approach. Bailly has adapted to life quickly in the Premier League and already looks like a smart piece of business by Mourinho and United.
Having replaced the ineffective Martial at the hour mark, Mkhitaryan might have felt a bit perplexed about having played for his new club only as a substitute thus far. That said, he demonstrated why he deserves a place in the starting eleven with a strong performance at the KCOM. His sudden bursts of pace were a recurring theme in the second half, an example of which was an industrious run through the middle that forced Tom Huddlestone to impede him and pick up a booking. With Fellaini occupying a deeper role in midfield, Mkhitaryan found his rhythm with Paul Pogba and Antonio Valencia down the right-hand side and looked menacing each time he entered the final third. It appears he will be relieved of his bit part roles soon, should he continue to play with panache and confidence.