United win in third gear
The last game of Manchester United’s busy September month – seven in total over a 22 day period – was always going to be a fatigued affair. Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Ashley Young, Romelu Lukaku, David de Gea, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling all featured once again following their 4am return on Thursday from Moscow and United’s performance, in turn, lacked its usual ferociousness at times.
Even so, their quality prevailed. The gulf in ability between United and Palace – now without a goal or win in seven games – was profound to say the least. There was an air of expectancy pervading Old Trafford from minute one and when Juan Mata opened the scoring in the third minute any vestige of competitiveness dissolved completely.
United dominated the ball and, in the end, their quality and confidence was enough for them to stroll past Roy Hodgson’s men without really breaking a sweat.
Marcus Rashford steps up to the plate
Anthony Martial once again grabbed the headlines during the week with a scintillating performance against CSKA Moscow, claiming two goals and an assist. The competition for a place on the left hand side with Marcus Rashford is only intensifying. Both wingers offer a unique dynamic going forward and Jose Mourinho has used the combination to great effect this season.
Indeed, the 19-year-old wasted no time producing a response against Palace, burning past Joel Ward with ease before teeing up Mata for United’s opener. Martial dazzled with his skill and flair on Wednesday, and Rashford, just a few days later, was showing what he can offer: powerful, penetrative running.
And he wasn’t done there: an inch-perfect, fizzing free kick early in the second half found the head of Marouane Fellaini to give United their third of the game and Rashford his fourth assist of the season. There is a real sense of maturity and control to his game – something engendered by Mourinho handing him regular starting spots over the last year, and supporters will be delighted to see both left wing options firing ahead of United’s visit to Anfield in under a fortnight.
And it really is 4-0 FC
This was United’s fourth 4-0 win in 11 games and the sixth time they have scored four in a game this season, providing a wonderful contrast to the litany of 1-1 draws – eight in total, along with six goalless draws – that stunted their progression in the Premier League last term.
Mourinho’s men are rampant. They now have 31 goals in 11 games and look like scoring whenever they go forward – the hallmark of any good team. The mood of the players and supporters whenever United enter an opponent’s final third is utterly different: last season’s neurosis and gloomy sense of foreboding in front of goal is firmly a thing of the past.
Antonio Valencia is a proper leader
There are some things you don’t see from behind the screen and Antonio Valencia’s effect on his teammates – the collective attitude he generates – is certainly one of them.
The win over Palace marked my first visit to Old Trafford of the season and one thing that stood out was Valencia’s constant involvement. Somebody remarked to me before the game that the Ecuadorian’s captaincy credentials are dubious given his lack of English, but as the game progressed that man’s statement was proven emphatically wrong.
Of course, the man isn’t wrong when he says Valencia cannot speak English, but that wasn’t a hampering factor at all: the right back leads through example, by making all the right runs at the right speed and imploring his teammates do to the same. He sets the bar, you sense, for United’s intensity, endlessly pointing and gesticulating to players with and without the ball. The way he goes about his game perfectly mirrors what Mourinho wants to see from his side, and for that alone he makes the ideal skipper.
Jose Mourinho oversees new defensive record
United have been a relentless force going forward this season but their defensive record deserves the same recognition. Conceding just two goals in seven games is a truly sublime record, with only one player – Stoke City’s Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting – finding a way past David de Gea.
And the Portuguese’s side, by holding off a meek Palace attack, equalled their best start to a Premier League in terms of clean sheets, claiming six out of seven games – a total only managed once before back in the 1997/98 season.
Make no mistake: United will only encounter success this season if they can match their attacking splendour with defensive organisation on a week in, week out basis.