Having comfortably negotiated the first month of the season, United embark on the more challenging second month with two competitions added to an already demanding league campaign. The routine of one game per week was a preserve of August and so September will truly test the strength of Jose Mourinho’s squad to the bone.
The month kicks off with a tricky tests to the Potteries to face Stoke City, against whom the club dropped four valuable points last season despite dominating both games. Mark Hughes always loves to get one over his former side and you can bet that he’ll be desperate to repeat the trick. The game comes at a time when it is hardly the cold winter of folklore in Stoke but they’ve already earned a scalp in Arsenal on MatchDay 2. The only caveat to United’s season so far has been the absence of a real test of their weaknesses. The manager himself is desirous of the response to going a goal behind. You get the feeling it is at Stoke where we could learn a bit more about this United team.
Hot on the heels of the trip to Stoke is a return of Champions League music to Old Trafford. FC Basel will provide the opposition in a group that could easily get awkward if the club doesn’t register the maximum 9 points at home. Unlike the drab Europa League games of the season past, you hope that the players will not need motivation to ensure a winning start to the European campaign. With the first choice defensive pair of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones suspended for this tie, the manager has already confirmed that Chris Smalling and new signing Victor Lindelof will be paired for the start of our European campaign. Whilst we know enough about the Englishman, it will be interesting to see how far the Swede has come on since his maiden Super Cup appearance. Given that a Phil Jones injury is probably round the corner, it will be a timely discovery of the quality in depth or otherwise of resources in that department.
Then, on the 17th of September, it shall be built up in the media to epic proportions that Wayne Rooney is returning to the club. Except that 24 hours later, he will be due in court to answer charges of drink-driving. Quite what state of mind he will be in or whether his new manager will allow him to partake is something we have to wait to see. Oh, and er…. the small matter that Romelu Lukaku will be up against his former employers. This fixture was another one of those frustrating home draws last season. One of the many results that we’ll have to change this term.
Mourinho’s first real utilization of his squad should follow soon after in the League Cup……or Carabao Cup if you will, against Burton Albion at Old Trafford. Regardless, United will be expected to progress from this stage against this opposition with somewhat minimum fuss.
Rotation in that fixture should give a full week’s rest to the first team to prepare for the visit to Southampton on the weekend. Whilst Everton and Southampton are not quite the big hitters in the division, they will be a steady improvement on the opposition United have faced in August and quite necessary in terms of warming up for the really big games of October. Victories in these pair of games will allow the club to retain a presence at the summit of the league which will be of great psychological help when the big bitters are due.
United conclude the month with a European trip to the scene of one of the club’s greatest nights in Moscow and then a home league match against Crystal Palace that should be a banker.
At a glance, the test to be passed in September is one of endurance of character. Unlike what we saw in August, the squad selection and personnel will not be the same throughout and yet the expectations will remain the same. It’ll therefore be interesting to see whether the manager’s methods and resolve are in-built throughout a talented squad or whether the dynamic drops in the absence of a couple of individuals.
September consolidates the foundation the club intends to build for the season. With similar application, the league games should not be so much cause for concern and yet the demands to succeed both domestically and in Europe will launch their initial strain on the squad.
If they enjoy it as much as they did in August, this shouldn’t be of concern.