It might well have just been a pre-season friendly away at Wigan with half of the first team squad missing due to their involvement at this summer’s European Championships but first impressions were good, after last season it was always going to be an improvement though. There was nothing special about the game itself, United were very comfortable, rarely having to get out of 2nd gear but little things provided a sense of relief that Van Gaal was no longer our manager. Mourinho was on the touchline, it’s something I didn’t think actually mattered that much in the past but it was good to see a manager actually trying to affect a game in our favour, barking orders at the players, giving applause when a player did something good and actually doing something rather than sitting down and taking a few notes. Players also looked to have more freedom and were taking shots from outside the box and were actually allowed to run with the ball. Little things but a relief and a return to normality. Mourinho showed some good humour too when he failed to acknowledge the away support’s request for a wave but later responded to “sit down Mourinho”, a familiar chant he’d faced from United fans when he was the opposition manager when at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Mourinho set the team up in a 4-2-3-1, which was to be expected with only 2 recognised central midfielders available. It’s a formation Mourinho has used mostly in his managerial career but when he has a full squad available to him and a certain midfield transfer target to select, he may decide to use a 4-3-3. Both Sam Johnstone and later on Joel Pereira had quiet afternoons between the goal posts with Wigan offering very little going forward and when they did look to threaten they were met by a solid back 4 with Shaw looking comfortable on his return from the double leg fracture he suffered 10 months ago and Bailly impressing on his debut. Bigger tests will come on the defensive front but both provided positives. Also impressive was youngster Axel Tuanzebe who despite only playing 10 minutes was praised by Mourinho in his post match interview.
Starting in midfield were Carrick and Herrera, as the only 2 recognised central midfielders in the squad, they were always going to get game time, Carrick looked his reliable self but it was Herrera that really impressed, looking more comfortable playing under Mourinho, given more freedom in his football than he was afforded under Van Gaal, it was notable that Mourinho was shown to applaud him after taking a shot from outside the box and gestured for him to do it more often, Mourinho was also shown applauding a tackle by the Spaniard. In the 2nd half, Andreas Pereira, usually an attacking midfield player was introduced as a deep lying midfielder, really impressed during the second half and picked up a goal, it’s a position that I’ve long thought he could be deployed in due to his excellent passing range and unlike some other attacking midfielders, he’s not afraid to get stuck in. It’s not yet known whether Mourinho wanted to play him there or whether he played him there due to a lack of other options but Mourinho was impressed and may want another look at him in that position.
In attack, new signing Mkhitaryan shone the most in his first 45 minutes as a United player, always looking for space and wanting the ball, and always looking to go forward either in his passing or by running. At one point, he picked up the ball in our own half and dribbled past a couple of players before playing a pass behind the full back to Memphis whose cross was put behind for a corner. Memphis should perhaps have done better with the chance Mkhitaryan set up but it could also be argued that Memphis should have had a penalty for a push. Mkhitaryan combined well with his team mates throughout the first half, something that is only going to improve the more he trains and plays with his new team mates. He should have done better with a chance he had but overall it was a good start from him and I suspect there’s a lot more to come. With Mata also doing well in the second half, Rooney has a real challenge on his hands for a place in the starting line-up for the first time in many years. A bigger signing could still come in but Mkhitaryan might well be our best signing.
So, a comfortable 2-0 victory to kick things off, it’s very early days but it’s so far so good for Mourinho’s United, the mood around the club has been lifted, players look happier and the fans are happier. Next stop is China where we will almost certainly face tougher tests, first against Borussia Dortmund and then Manchester City.