Written by Ian Hope
The new football season is only a couple of games in but the first two games have shown us all the upgrade on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer`s Manchester United.
Slowly but surely, the United manager has weeded out the likes of Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku. All players who do not fit in to the new look United, a side that now look fitter, faster and their first thought is to press forward rather than trudge backwards.
For the last four and a half years firstly under Louis Van Gaal then Jose Mourinho United have been slow, ponderous and a painful watch for supporters. Too many slow players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney, Daley Blind, Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic to name a few whose legs had long gone were in the same side.
In those last few years, supporters have been bored to tears watching a side who all too readily wanted to go backwards rather than forwards and at a snails pace. Regularly, goalkeeper David De Gea would touch the ball more than some of the outfield players so often did his defenders prefer to go backwards that start attacking moves.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, both England internationals dithered on the ball and were scared stiff when forwards chased them down. Neither looked comfortable with the ball at their feet. Too often the ball would go sideways or backwards.
In the first two games of this season against Chelsea and Wolves, United have been on the front foot as opposed to the back foot. Smalling and Jones have not even made the bench in either game. Instead Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof look like they have played together for months.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has slotted in tightening up the right back spot with an energy, superb tackling and an eagerness to go from box to box. It is criminal to see United have Sir Alex Ferguson`s old thirty something wingers in Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia playing at right back. Wan-Bissaka already looks like he could end up going down in United right back folklore after the likes of Denis Irwin and Gary Neville.
Maguire brings a calmness to the defence reading the game superbly. Time and again he is in the right place clearing and intercepting crosses. An ability to bring the ball out of defence and deep into opposition territory like Rio Ferdinand used to in his pomp.
Overall the noticeable thing with United`s defence this season has been to go from indecision and a default backpass to De Gea, to two touch football and a forward pass. The midfield has also been more alert with players dropping to receive the ball instead of being statues for the last few seasons.
Throughout the side there is more urgency to win the ball back. With younger, fitter players all mucking in wanting to turn the ball over and into a United attack.
With Maguire marshalling the new look defence, reading the game superbly and a lightening fast front three in Rashford, Martial and James United turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. Several times against Chelsea, United went from box to box in around ten seconds. Something unseen in the previous few years.
Solskjaer`s side have four points from the a possible six in two games historically United never win. The disappointment at the final whistle at Wolves on Monday night in dropping two points shows how far United have come. Last season United were put to the sword by a lively Wolves side twice losing 2-1 on each occasion.
Whilst it is very early days in the season, there is much to be optimistic about. Solskjaer is clearly moulding the squad, weeding out players who do not fit this faster style of football. Marcos Rojo appears to be the next out of the Old Trafford door. You wouldn’t argue with Sanchez, Smalling and Jones following behind over the next year. Something many United supporters have been demanding for sometime. Maybe the baby faced assassin is slowly making his mark.