Manchester United has had a strong start to the season so far with a pretty similar squad to last season. However, last season the start was not as strong. This comparison begs the question of “what’s different?” and the answer is simple: a stable defense and a goal-craving attack.
Within last year’s first six league games, United had already conceded 7 goals and had lost to Watford 3-1. However, this term, we have only conceded 2 league goals, both coming from Stoke in a 2-2 draw. When thinking about the difference, it actually does not come from the back line, but the midfield. Eric Bailly and Phil Jones have started every league game this term and were both on the squad last season, but did not boast this type of form. The secret to our defensive power has been Nemanja Matić.
Matić has been a destroyer of attacks this season, being on the leader board for the league in key areas like interceptions, tackles, and passes. He remains so vital to the defensive presence of the team because he is the first line of defense and teams stop when they get to him. Now, don’t get me wrong, Bailly, Jones, along with De Gea have been amazing themselves, but they are not the catalyst that has transformed our defense like Matić has been.
The next difference is the front line. Last season, United had 12 goals within the first six games and this term United has 17 in the first six games. These totals do not vary immensely, but the main difference is the precedent United is setting this season that they did not last season. Last season, United’s attack was lethargic. With Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimović leading the attack, it lacked pace and energy that dangerous attacks need to thrive. Rooney and Ibrahimović are both legends in the game of football, but let’s face it, they’re slowing down a bit and are not fit to lead the line like they used to. This lead to United scoring goals, but not killing games like they have in the past.
Fast forward to this season, and it looks completely different. Now leading the attack are the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who boast the pace and creativity to lead an explosive attack. Along with them, they have Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford, who also add pace and creativity, as well as width, to the United front line. The addition of Lukaku adds the speed and creativity that Ibrahimović did not have and is impacting our attack a lot. Having another speedster out there to get in behind and thrive during the counter-attack has changed how United scores goals. Along with that, the players from last season have had time to adjust to Mourinho, the Premier League, and each other. We just got lucky that Lukaku fit in so quickly.
And Finally, We’re Having Some Fun
United’s season seems to be different in many ways, and these two have been the most evident. However, another aspect of this season as compared to last is that it looks like United players and fans alike are finally having fun again. Last season was at times very boring and discouraging, as United claimed draw after draw after draw. The fans were losing confidence in a Manchester side that has been so dominant for so long and the players did not seem content sitting in the sixth-place spot or playing in the Europa League. However, this season is different. Fans are singing the praises of the players and Mourinho and the players are confident having yet to lose in league play. This dominant start has been exciting, but there is more domination to come.