The Jose Mourinho debut as manager of Manchester United in a Premier League match went as expected: A win. Not an exciting one, but a powerful one, if that’s even a way to describe. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata did too. Eric Bailly looked very good in defense, and overall it was an interesting change compared to the depressing performances of last season.
A 3-1 win over Bournemouth didn’t show a perfect Manchester United. David De Gea needed to show his ability in order to keep a lead in order, but United did lead 3-0 before the Southerners got a goal back, and had plenty of time to feel comfortable in their lead. The inclusion of Marouane Fellaini in the lineup did come as a surprise to some, but with Paul Pogba suspended, Mourinho wasn’t going to give up on someone as physically dominant as the Belgian CM, even if many Manchester United fans have grown tired of seeing him.
Rooney didn’t play as a forward, but he had plenty of chances to surge forward and join Anthony Martial and Ibrahimovic, who didn’t do much in the match, but offered his finishing touch, which is all the team needs from him considering their inability to score away from home last season (only 22 goals outside of Old Trafford in 19 matches). Mata and Mourinho might not be the chummiest of players, but in the system Mourinho plans to play in, he’s a valuable player to place behind the forwards, and someone who even on a bad day does well in finding spots to score from and deliver big passes.
The defense needs some time to adjust. Daley Blind was moved all over the place last season. Antonio Valencia is getting accustomed to being a right back for good. Luke Shaw is just returning from a long period of being injured. Bailly, despite his successful debut, is going to face more difficult challenges, and is also going to see some adjustment period after arriving from Villarreal. Cementing a strong midfield unit that can both support the attack and prevent the defense from falling under too much pressure is probably the biggest goal Mourinho is setting out to achieve early on. The offense, with the talent it has, should take care of itself.
It’ll be interesting to see where Henrikh Mkhitaryan falls in to place for Mourinho, coming on as a sub in this match. He’ll probably take the place of Juan Mata in time, unless Mata shows he has changed since the last time he played under Mourinho, ending in him being sold to United. Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera are two more players who might be too “soft” for Mourinho’s liking, but everything changes when Pogba arrives, who has become a more attacking presence in recent years, and would need someone to calm things down next to him.
Overall, more than anything, it’s weird seeing Mourinho shouting out orders on a United sideline, but with the winning comes comfort and familiarity. Mourinho is never about transition phases as a manager, unless he doesn’t win a title (like his first year back with Chelsea) and then the narrative changes. For now, United are aiming at a championship and regaining their formidability, which for the first weekend worked out fine.