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Manchester United’s campaign got off to the perfect possible start lifting the Community Shield at Wembley. The Reds felt in relative control throughout despite the pacy threat of a dangerous Leicester side who played well.
Following Lingard’s superb individual opener the Foxes were gifted a way back into the game, benefitting from an error from Fellaini. Nevertheless, late in game United’s new match winner did just that, as Ibrahimovic pounced on some rare service into the box; here are 5 things we learned from a welcome win at Wembley.
1) More Love For Lingard?
Once again Wembley proved a happy hunting ground for Jesse Lingard. He is a player who divides opinion amongst fans and even his biggest supporters wouldn’t make a serious argument that the winger is top class; but he certainly has plenty to offer the squad.
More than a few eyebrows have been raised at Lingard’s inclusion by Mourinho, particularly seemingly at the expense of new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but against Leicester the academy product justified his selection.
Of all the players in the squad, Lingard is perhaps the most mobile and he looks to go forwards and plays at a higher tempo than anyone else currently around him. This is not a player who will ever reach the heights of a Ronaldo, but Lingard will have a big role to play this season and probably deserves greater appreciation.
2) M, M, M & M
Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the new campaign after Sunday’s victory surrounds United’s ‘Ms’; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Of those 4 it seems only Martial currently commands a starting place, and the Frenchman is clearly short of game time and fitness. After such an impressive breakthrough season big things are expected and it will be interesting to see how Mourinho sees Martial fitting into his system.
Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata can perhaps consider themselves unfortunate not to start as things stand. Wayne Rooney has looked woefully short in pre season whilst Juan Mata has arguably been one of the club’s best performers. Rashford adds a different dimension with his pace and threat in behind.
Then there is the curious case of Henrikh Mkhitaryan; so impressive on his debut but afforded very few minutes of late and seemingly now behind Lingard in the pecking order. The best balance may arguably be to play Ibrahimovic with Rashford, Martial and Mkhitaryan; a blend of creativity, pace and power that would be difficult to contain. Whether Mourinho goes that way remains to be seen.
3) Bailly the Boss
It was a man of the match performance (according to the match sponsors at least) from United’s new centre-half. Few knew anything about the former Villareal man before his arrival but Bailly has made a big impression in pre-season.
At the age of 22 the defender is still raw, but he has all the physical attributes you would want. Bailly is aggressive, combative and very quick and dealt well with the pacy threat of Leicester throughout. Moreover, the youngster was conducting things on and off the ball, constantly pointing and talking.
It’s still early days but Mourinho may well have unearthed a gem (albeit for a hefty price tag) and Bailly looks as if he may well become a leader for years to come.
4) Mourinho’s Mould
The plan now seems clear; 4-2-3-1 with Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing in tandem. Many observers have noted that this idea is not without its issues. Both players want to drop deep and come to the ball, and neither are blessed with blistering pace to threaten in behind defences.
This puts a lot of pressure and emphasis on the wide players to offer both pace and the threat over the top. Early signs have been largely unconvincing, but it’s important to remember that a lot of these players haven’t played a lot of football yet this season.
Nevertheless, Marcus Rashford in particular can consider himself unfortunate, and Mourinho may have a big decision sooner rather than later as the side feels a lot more balanced with Rashford playing ahead of one of either Zlatan or Rooney.
What is encouraging, however, is that Mourinho is intent in being more potent and aggressive in possession and that can surely only bode well in regard to the attacking style of play that the Old Trafford Faithful desire. Paul Pogba may well prove to be the vital piece of Mourinho’s jigsaw too; so watch this space.
5) Season Expectations
For the first time since Ferguson’s departure, there is a real sense of a winning mentality returning to the squad. There are now big characters and leaders in the dressing room and it is hard to think that will not have an impact.
It is perhaps the most difficult Premier League season to predict ever, with lots of teams strengthening heavily but Mourinho has been typically bullish in his own ambitions; he wants the title.
With the addition of Paul Pogba there is no question that United will have a very strong and exciting squad, but a poor pre-season will not have helped their chances of getting off to a flyer.
Nevertheless, there is a sense of hope if not expectation building that the club may once again challenge for the biggest prize this year, and on Sunday against Leicester the side got off to the perfect start.