Manchester United rode their luck and then the crest of a second-half wave as as quick-fire goals from their two great attacking hopes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, sunk an otherwise vibrant Chelsea in this Old Trafford Premier League opener.
Tammy Abraham smashed the post and Emerson went even closer, seeing his effort glance off the underside of the bar, as Chelsea provided the greater threat in the first 45 minutes.
However, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire went some way to justifying the combined £135 million that United spent for their services in a fine all-round performance from the hosts’ back four.
It was Rashford who provided the breakthrough in the 18th minute from the penalty spot after clumsiness from Kurt Zouma. Having soaked up more Chelsea pressure, United finished the job off when Martial bundled in Andreas Pereira’s cross shortly after the hour-mark and Rashford matched Paul Pogba’s raking pass with an equally fine finish.
There was time for left for new boy Daniel James – who has only played 33 professional games in his career before moving to Old Trafford – to sneak in a dream fourth goal.
This is your moment, @Daniel_James_97 — welcome to Old Trafford! 🙌♥️ #MUFC #MUNCHE pic.twitter.com/z7fzYU7nz4— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 11, 2019
Luk who’s scoring the goals
Romelu Lukaku’s United career will be looked upon with derision… but the Belgian did score goals.
With his £74m sale to Inter Milan in the books, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has also removed 42 goals over the last two seasons without buying so much as a replacement.
Does the scoreline suggest there was nothing to worry about after all? Not quite.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s blueprint for his attack is pace and lots of it, yet often during the first half Martial and Rashford would break without conjuring up much of a plan whey got to their final-third destination.
If chance creation – or simply getting shots off – was lacking, questions over how clinical this front line can be have been answered. Martial’s goal, while fortunate having come off his standing leg, showed a striker’s instinct to beat Cesar Azpilicueta to the ball in the six-yard box.
And Rashford, both for penalty and his placed one-on-one finish, were hallmarks of a potential assassin.
No Kurt response
Kurt Zouma could not have expected for his Chelsea career to be given a second wind.
Successive loans to Stoke and Everton – with whom he was constantly linked to a permanent move over the summer – were nudges towards the exit door for a player who has never truly looked back to his best following a horrible knee injury during the 2016/17 campaign.
Well, David Luiz is now in north London and Antonio Rudiger has made best friends with Chelsea’s physios. Here’s your chance.
Sadly for the France international, this was not the type of audition he’d have been dreaming of. Rare is it for a centre-back to not protest a penalty, but he knew he was caught red-handed with a ugly chop at Marcus Rashford’s feet.
Another clumsy grapple somewhere in midfield earned him a yellow and a brainless back-pass let in Anthony Martial, which thankfully for him came to nothing. Andreas Christensen, the other first-choice hopeful, looked far more assured.
Say what you will about United’s transfer policy, but they have invested heavily in Wan-Bissaka and Maguire and both looked the part on Sunday. With Chelsea hamstrung by their embargo, you feel that much of the race for top four hinges on their back four.
Kurt Zouma did not make a successful tackle in the first half vs. Man Utd.Two fouls committed, a penalty conceded and a yellow card to cap it off. pic.twitter.com/GNhsHGcpxs— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 11, 2019
Welcome back, Paul
If a summer of optimism was supposed to smooth out fans’ frustrations with Pogba, he quickly reintroduced those kinks to his game.
Driving towards the opposition goal he plays at hyper-speed. When faced towards his own goal, his mind often moves through sludge.
At numerous times on Sunday he was preyed upon by Chelsea’s buzzing press having taken too many touches or attempted the intricate when there was no cause for it.
He was dispossessed five times in the first half alone and it only inflames suspicions that the Frenchman is just too ill-disciplined to start in a midfield two – particularly with the relatively inexperienced Scott McTominay beside him – to give United a consistent foothold in games.
Then what eventually happens? A brief glance, a wonderfully weighted ball to Rashford, and it’s game over. What about a second delicious assist to hand James some debut delight?
This is why he’s worth keeping. Just don’t forget the preceding 65 minutes.
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