Manchester United could hardly have made a better start to the season with 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea.
Rival supporters have been quick to dismiss the achievement, given it’s likely both sides will finish in the bottom half of the table this season, but these are exactly the sort of results that eluded Jose Mourinho’s team in the last campaign.
United beat the top two teams in the Premier League at Old Trafford, with a 2-0 win over Chelsea and a 3-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur, but drew with West Ham and Swansea. They drew with a whole host of mediocre teams in fact, including Hull, Burnley and Stoke.
They dominated these games, in terms of possession and chances, but couldn’t convert that in to goals and points.
The performance against West Ham was better than at Swansea, but both showed United’s attacking intent and ability to find the back of the net. Contrary to the football Mourinho has employed at other clubs, and in many games for The Red Devils last season, he was happy to relinquish the reins and let the “horses run freely”.
So while a shift in mentality on the field will certainly have contributed to Man United’s strong start, there are signs that everything is starting to click off the field too.
In the summer, Jose hailed this group of players as the his favourite of all-time, which is praise indeed when you consider the brilliant squads, full of big characters, that he has managed at Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Porto.
“During my long career, I have never worked with a group I like as much them,” he said, before claiming that new signings Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof were lucky to be joining a dressing room like this one.
This is a viewpoint that Matic echoed when discussing how easy it had been to fit in to life at United, claiming his new teammates were “amazing” and “good friends”.
His transition has been seamless, as evidenced by him being named Man of the Match in the win over West Ham and his excellent display in Wales.
“I’m happy to be here, I really enjoy it,” the Serb added following the victory on Saturday. “We are all friends in the changing room and that’s very important.”
It’s not just the new players, but some of the longest serving members of the squad too. Chris Smalling has also spoken about how well everyone in the squad gets on.
“It’s hard to be able to have 25 players that all get along, but I’ve found in the dressing room everybody is getting on, everyone’s joking, we’ve got music playing and everyone is laughing and joking about,” Smalling said.
“I hear a lot of stories from other clubs and there’s a lot more people that don’t get on than us, so I think we’re very blessed to have the changing room that we have.”
Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Lukaku have all been seen pointing to the club’s badge after scoring this season. While badge kissing doesn’t tell us the whole story, with players showing allegiance one week and signing for a different team the next, it certainly highlights for now how connected the players feel to the club now.
Of course, Mourinho has been here before though. He’s created dressing rooms that would run through brick walls for him, only for something to go horribly wrong. No story typifies that better than both of his stints at Chelsea.
Having won back-to-back titles, Chelsea finished second in his third season and made a slow start to his fourth.
Claude Makelele claimed it was captain John Terry that turned on Mourinho the first time and put pressure on Roman Abramovich to show the manager the door.
The second time around, Mourinho was sacked just seven months after winning the league for a third time with the club. There was plenty of talk of him losing the dressing room with Chelsea supporters showing up with banners calling the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas “rats” and booing them. Another banner read: “You let Jose down, you let us down”.
Whatever magic Mourinho seems to make in the early days, it has a bad habit of vanishing as time goes by. The players that once would have done anything to win for him eventually seem to actively seek to destroy him.
Chelsea lost nine games out of 16 when defending the title that Mourinho helped them win, which is relegation form. While the business with Eva Carneiro and the manager’s general unravelling with his antics on the touchline probably didn’t help matters, questions were asked of a group of players who were good enough to win the league one season but were on a course for the Championship the next.
Maybe there’s nothing that can be done to halt this cycle. Maybe Mourinho’s personality and techniques make that impossible.
If his favourite group can’t escape it, then maybe no team will be able to, but United supporters will be hoping there’s something special about the relationship that Mourinho has with this squad.
As has been said repeatedly, it’s far too early to claim United are title favourites. Manchester City have outspent United for three consecutive summers, having started with a better squad to begin with.
The pressure is on Pep Guardiola to turn his transfer outlay in to trophies. However, you wouldn’t want to bet against Mourinho in his second season either, particularly with a dressing room as happy and ‘united’ as his current one is.