After a flawless August start to the season, Manchester United were faced with a more challenging test of endurance in September with 7 games across the month including the start of the League Cup and the return of Champions League football to Old Trafford.
Looking, back, it’s fair to say that United have pretty much kept in tune with how things went in August, with the stalemate at Stoke the only blot on their record this past month. It was at the Bet 365 Stadium that September started for the Reds. An assured start to the season defensively was finally to be tested by the sheer brutality you encounter in the Potteries. Jose Mourinho departed from his usual back line and went for Matteo Darmian at left back, perhaps in a bid to stifle Stoke down the right. What followed was confidence shaking. You can get away with it if one of your defenders has an awful game but at Stoke that day, United had Eric Bailly and Phil Jones off their game at the same time and Mark Hughes’ side was brutal in punishing each mistake. Suddenly United’s rearguard lost its aura of invincibility that had been built in August. The positive on the day was that United had an off day and still picked up a point but they still needed a response from a shaky performance that had started to raise doubts about their domestic challenge. And boy was it emphatic!
FC Basel were easily dispatched 3-0 at Old Trafford to get the Champions League campaign off to a flying start but United lost Paul Pogba to a bad hamstring injury. Everton and Wayne Rooney were next up at Old Trafford but United were in no mood for sentiment as they eventually conquered the Scousers and returned themselves to the four goal routine. Jose Mourinho made changes for the League Cup game against Burton Albion and rather unsurprisingly, United scored four again enroute to booking their place in the next round. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashord starred on the occasion of their first joint start in a game this season. The only negative on the night was that United conceded their first goal at Old Trafford in all competitions against the Championship side. It remains the only one conceded at home todate.
On the 23rd of September, United faced arguably their trickiest game of the season so far, away at Southampton in the premier league. True to expectation, the cub ground out a hard-fought 0-1 win. At some stage towards the end of that game, United had nine defensive minded players on the pitch at the same time. It was very much reminiscent of the game against Middlesbrough at the tail end of last season and also a timely reminder of the manager’s willingness to go crude if he feels that the circumstances require him to. More importantly though, it was another pair of points recovered from another game which we failed to win last season. If you’re keeping count, that is an extra pair of points from games against West Ham (H), Everton (H) and Southampton (A) from the corresponding results last season.
Back in Europe, a glance at the fixtures in United’s Group A suggested that the trip away to CSKA Moscow in Russia would be the club’s most difficult game of the Group phase. Except that United scored 4 again and had the game wrapped up within the first half-hour! Anthony Martial yet again lit up the night with an impressive man of the match display with a goal and a couple of assists. At six points from two games with the most difficult tie out-of-the-way, It’s possible that business in the Group stage could be wound up as early as Match-Day 4, allowing for concentration on domestic matters.
United concluded the month with another easy 4-0 home victory over Crystal Palace, taking the club’s tally of goals to an incredible 32 in 11 outings this season. September was a test of the club’s endurance to tussle through a congested fixture schedule at a time when injuries start to bite. October though, promises to be much sterner, but given the near perfect start to the season United have had, confidence levels must be sky-high to allow for optimism if not expectation in the challenges next month. United have built themselves a solid platform during Autumn on which to build on ahead of the winter that is on its way.