First the good bits. Four goals, two in the space of 95 seconds, the third an expression of world class in the pass and the finish, saw Manchester United end the first weekend of the season ahead of Liverpool and Spurs on goal difference, bettered only by champions Manchester City. Why wouldn’t the Stretford End dance like it was 1999?
The world’s most expensive centre-half, Harry Maguire, carried off the man-of-the-match award. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was not far behind. Dan James, pictured, scored on his debut. Marcus Rashford scored twice, the second a thing of beauty. Anthony Martial got in front of the last defender in the manner of a proper centre-forward to slide home the third. Paul Pogba had an immense second half.
Up in the posh seats owner Avi Glazer clapped and cheered appropriately. CEO Ed Woodward celebrated with his predecessor David Gill. You wondered how they measured the performance. A big win in front of a full house. Bingo.
Hmmm. Despite the scale of the result, this was a million miles from the coruscating brilliance of City at West Ham. Indeed, it is hard to disagree with the judgment of Frank Lampard that before Martial and Rashford pulled off a double mugging just past the hour, Chelsea were the better side despite trailing to a first-half penalty.
Chelsea twice hit the post in the opening period and forced David de Gea into one of those characteristic feet-first interventions. The purposeful, joined-up stuff was all the work of the opposition, an observation supported by 58 per cent possession. Any one of those chances go in and this would be a piece about United’s introspection, a team woefully hindered by a muddled midfield.
We are in the early stages of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer project. The match was a microcosm of last season, the good stuff hinting at real substance, the bad stuff a hodge-podge of clawing stasis.
The question is always about quality. Are Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard the stuff of champions? Yes Pereira played Rashford through in the move that led to the penalty but the United midfield was second best against a modest line-up by Chelsea standards.
In Pogba’s twilight world of being yet not quite being a United player he did neither himself nor his team a service in the first half. Too often he was caught in that casual flow of his, a detached presence at the centre of things.
United’s failure to solve the Pogba riddle is a structural problem that threatens to bring the whole house down. In the starting configuration United were unable to control the tempo. The early part of the second half followed the same pattern until Rashford broke into that ineluctable stride of his to start the break that fed Martial in at the near post. Pogba’s pass to set Rashford free 90 seconds later was as good as anything you will see in the Premier League this season, floated with the outside of his boot into the path of the advancing striker.
Rashford brought it under control with a gossamer touch and finished with a flourish. The stands were a backdrop of cacophonous delight. The players celebrated in a huddle, the rhythm and tenor of the match turned on its head. United were rampant now and might have added more than the fourth scored by James after another lightning break.
Next up Wolves. Would you back them to prevail? Frankly no. Then again 4-0 wins against Chelsea are no cause for mourning.