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Mourinho's big men Matic and Lukaku look to end Manchester United strife

Mourinho's big men Matic and Lukaku look to end Manchester United strife
From ESPN - August 13, 2017

For many a year, Manchester United winning a home league game scarcely constituted news. Last season it did. Old Trafford was more the Theatre of Draws than the Theatre of Dreams. A new season and a new striker brought a new scoreline. United recorded their biggest league victory under Jose Mourinho.

The pragmatist arrowed in on the most significant element: the result. What, the Portuguese was asked in his news conference, pleased him the most? "The win," he said. "Because many times last season we deserved to win and did not so the fact we won the match was the most important thing."

His side cast West Ham into the role of sacrificial lambs, symbolic figures who, the Portuguese must hope, epitomise the difference between campaigns. They drew 1-1 at Old Trafford in November, one of 10 teams to share the points with Mourinho's men. They lost 4-0 on their return. They could have been forgiven for a sense of foreboding from the moment Mourinho paid 75 million for their regular tormentor Romelu Lukaku. A double took his tally to 11 goals in his last 11 games against West Ham; he has done more damage to them than even Avram Grant managed.

Yet beyond the significance for an individual, even one as expensive as Lukaku, came the implications for the collective. You scarcely need a mind as mathematical and analytical as Mourinho's to diagnose United's issues in his debut campaign. A manager who has set many a record mustered the wrong kind. Tallies of 26 goals and eight victories were United's fewest in the Premier League era. Three points and four goals represented the right sort of start as he sought to improve on those meagre figures.

Lukaku was the catalyst. "There was no pressure from me," said Mourinho, after counselling that "everybody expects goals from the striker." The 75m man's league debut yielded two. Accusations have been levelled that the Belgian is a flat-track bully. United required one. A man who delivered Goodison Park goals against inferior opponents last season threatens to offer the same level of service at Old Trafford. The header to double his tally was reminiscent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man he has replaced. The acceleration to score the opener was not.

And the addition of pace added an extra element to United. That was not purely due to Lukaku; Marcus Rashford, who was outstanding, suggested he might break into the United Kingdom's World Championship-winning 100m relay team and sprinted past the unfortunate Pablo Zabaleta at will, while the substitute Anthony Martial is no slower. Whereas United's past problems at Old Trafford have been prompted by ponderous sides, a swift start to the season was an indication a need for speed has been addressed.

"We did not want to leave them one against one in individual situations," said Slaven Bilic, the West Ham manager illustrating the difference Mourinho's turbo-charged forward line brought. But he also mentioned the set-piece menace that produced Lukaku's second goal. The Croatian refused to use his injured contingent as an excuse. "We had a decent team out and I expected more," added a mournful Bilic.

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