After two 4-0 wins on the spin, Manchester United have had the sort of start to this Premier League season that dreams are made of.
If Jose Mourinho was invited by the league to write his own results in the blank boxes provided, he’d probably be too sheepish to write 4-0 in twice. It’s almost beyond the wildest of dreams.
And until the 14th October, when United travel to Anfield to face old rivals Liverpool, the only top seven club the Red Devils have to face is Everton at Old Trafford.
It’s looking like the sort of chance that United can’t pass up, then: the chance to build on their near-perfect start and rack up points before the tough games begin. They went on a long unbeaten run last season, but this time, instead of drawing the home games, it looks like they might have the goals in the squad to turn those games into wins. And if they do that, the title is most definitely up for grabs.
In fact, it looks like the run of games at the beginning of December could be crucial to a title challenge: facing Arsenal away and Manchester City at home either side of the last Champions League group game could prove important.
If they do well enough in Europe to rest key players in between the two crunch league games (and if City and Arsenal both have important European fixtures with qualification hanging in the balance), United could be well on their way to a first league title since Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
On the other hand, some early difficulties in the Champions League could mean that they have three big games in the space of a week. A capitulation is possible, though we’re a long way off knowing the lay of the land when that run of fixtures comes up on the horizon. It’s still one to keep an eye on.
As are United, though. Because although they’ve managed to set the Premier League alight twice in the first two games, they’ve not been overly convincing in the first half of either game. Until breaking the resistance of both West Ham and Swansea in the second half, United looked the similarly turgid as they did for most of last season.
That was until they were afforded the ability to counter-attack.
Perhaps the explanation is one of the things many commentators picked up on over the summer: United’s physicality.
Height doesn’t equal stamina, of course, but Jose Mourinho seems to have bought tall, physical players, possibly in order to out-last the opposition this season. After all, United are a team who won’t see more of the ball than Manchester City, Tottenham or Liverpool this season, and playing against the bigger sides, their counter-attacking ability will be vital. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons United’s physicality will be so important for the rest of the season.
Fighting on more than one front was the main reason that Jose Mourinho kept giving for his side’s failures in the league, as they prioritised the Europa League instead. Maybe this is his way of compensating for that.
In the end, against two inferior teams, it was in the second half that United broke the resistance of West Ham and Swansea, once the opposition had tired sufficiently.
And perhaps that’s the main thing to think about when watching United for the rest of the season – their fitness could be telling. And in an era of possession and pressing football, maybe that’s going to be the biggest difference this year.