A win. Three points. A clean sheet. Goals for Rashford and Martial. Decent performances from two of the summer signings, and a goalscoring cameo from the third. United’s 4-0 win over Chelsea wasn’t a perfect performance, not by a long way, but in the end it delivered everything Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was looking for.
Could have been very different, mind. It was Chelsea that made the early running and created the early chances. The best fell to Tammy Abraham, after Marcus Rashford lost concentration while clearing a set piece, but the youngster could only hit the post. Add to that a couple of crosses that flashed across the six-yard box, and a couple of shots straight at David de Gea, and United looked like they might collapse before they even got going.
But then they were given a gift. After a good advantage from the referee, Marcus Rashford took the ball into the penalty area and was promptly tripped by Kurt Zouma, who loves a tackle more than is wise. United’s no. 10 took it himself and hammered it beyond Kepa.
The goal settled United for a time — or perhaps spooked Chelsea — but it didn’t lead to a flurry of chances. The pressing was enthusiastic but the passing imprecise, and the game remained appallingly open. On the plus side, United were definitely trying to play a more interesting, enterprising, and fluid game than has been the case over the last few seasons. But it turns out this change in attitude hasn’t magically made Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira into a solid midfield.
As for the new boys, Harry Maguire did some big headers and looked generally calm, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka looked immediately at home. He escaped his first tricky one-on-one by flipping the ball over an opponent’s head, and went on from there. (Okay, so he kind of lost track of Emerson at one point, and the Italian hit the post, but shhhhhhhh. He’ll be fine.)
The second half initially threatened to unfold in the same semi-exciting, semi-terrifying vein, but United quickly found a more compact shape, and Chelsea’s attacks began to founder a little further from United’s goal. And then, as Chelsea pushed forwards, United sprang a break, and though the initial chance seemed to have been blown, Andreas Pereira was able to whip a wicked cross onto Martial’s toes. The Frenchman scuffed it, but scuffed it through Kepa’s legs, and the lead was doubled ...
... then trebled, a mere moment later, as Pogba unfurled one of those clips over the defence, and Rashford deployed his best Berbatov impression to accept the ball, then stroke it home.
Such circumstances are ideal for debuts, and on came Daniel James to have a run at Chelsea. Rumours of his quickness were, apparently, entirely accurate, but he seems to be a lucky boy as well. After good work from Pogba and Martial, he seemed to have wasted his chance, but he squeezed out a shot that took the defender’s heel, and bounced beyond Kepa. 4-0, and a young United debutant having the day of his life.
As noted above, this wasn’t perfect. But it was promising in many parts, even beyond the goals. Lindelof and Maguire looked complementary; Wan-Bissaka and Shaw looked solid. Jesse Lingard ran flat-out for 85 minutes and impressed just as much as his goalscoring colleagues. And David de Gea looked back to his old self again, secure with hands and feet.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect, however, was the improvement from one half to the next. United rode their luck in the first half but responded well, tightening up at the back and taking their chances when they came. Could have been a disaster; ended up a delight. Can’t complain about that.