As the dust settled and final whistle blown, United emerged victorious in another Premier League game, a vital 2-0 win at Old Trafford against the 2015/16 Champions Leicester City. On the whole, United deservedly took home all three points as Mourinho’s side improved their points tally to nine, out of nine available – and will go into the international break with confidence as high as it can be.
Here are my three thoughts as Mourinho’s inspiring substitutions made all the difference on Saturday.
1. The bench strength at Manchester United is quite intimidating
How often did Manchester United turn to solutions on the bench when things did not go their way and miserably failed in the process, in the last four years? It was a rather familiar occurrence. But United, on Saturday, showed that they could not be written off until the final minute with the quality and variety they have at their disposal to push them towards a win.
Against Leicester, substitute Marcus Rashford scored the key goal to break the deadlock – replacing Juan Mata in the second half while the fortuitous second goal came not long after, thanks to a productive combination of substitutes Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini. What is worth noticing here is the kind of players that United did not even need to feature on Saturday, but were present and could offer a different type of service on another day.
Ander Herrera, for instance, was an unused substitute against Leicester City and in fact, the Player of the Year award winner for last season, has had a mere five minutes of football in three PL fixtures is telling. Not to mention, Michael Carrick, who played an important role for the Red Devils in the middle of the park for most of last season, has yet to kick a ball for United in 2017/18 and did not make the 18-man squad on Saturday.
With the addition of a fit Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young in the coming months and the confirmed return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in January – Manchester United do have a formidable group of players to count on across all competitions and that should be genuinely intimidating for their rivals and exciting for supporters.
2. Mourinho gets the response he wanted
Mourinho questioned United’s mentality in losing situations during the post match interview after the emphatic 4-0 win over Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. On Saturday, even though United never went behind in terms of scoreline, the home side were put under some pressure in the early stages of the second half when Leicester tried to exploit United’s half-spaces on the counter – attacking Daley Blind a few times along the way as Mahrez got behind their back four a fair few times in the second half.
The frequency of visitors getting the ball into the final third saw a substantial increase after Romelu Lukaku missed his spot kick – as Kasper Schmeichel palmed away a rather routine attempt that lacked any guile and conviction. It could have been a turning point in the game in favour of the opposition and it has been the case, last season as the Red Devils generally to kick on after a setback in the form of an equalizer. But on the contrary, in the weekend, Manchester United continued to push on for the first goal as Mourinho worked his way into the match by bringing fresh pairs of legs as his side ended up winning the game rather comfortably in the end.
It is still early days and the transfer window is still open – if you will, but United may have already developed another layer to their game.
3. Phil Jones is the Guv’nor
This cannot be disputed. Especially this season, as Phil Jones has shown that the coincidence of his fitness and Manchester United looking strong and resilient at the back may not be mere coincidence at all.
Jones was at his destructive best on Saturday – completing 6 clearances, winning 4 aerial duels and tackles combined and successfully containing the threat of Mahrez in and around the Mahrez, covering for Daley Blind, on a few occasions.
His partnership with Bailly shows signs of rapid growth in understanding, aided by the surety that Matic provides in the midfield just ahead of them. Including pre-season, United have not conceded in 405 minutes with Phil Jones and Eric Bailly at the heart of their defence and that is testament to Manchester United settling down on a center-back pairing this campaign.
The 25-year old still has a long way to go this season but should he stay fit for a sustained period and replicate his good form, there is no reason why he cannot nail down a place in the starting lineup as Mourinho clearly prefers him to his international teammate Chris Smalling, at this point in time.