Manchester United fans turned up at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon full of nerves.
While the additions to the squad of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James were welcomed, there were well-founded fears over how their midfield would cope against Chelsea.
Those worries were realised in the first half when United were largely overrun. Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay had a difficult time, with Chelsea looking like the better side.
Thankfully Chelsea have their own issues and selling David Luiz, for him to be replaced by Kurt Zouma, backfired at Old Trafford. The young defender, who spent last season on loan at Everton, made an early mistake that presented Anthony Martial with an early chance, before bringing down Rashford in the penalty area to give away the first goal.
In contrast, United’s defence was solid, with Maguire looking to be the defender fans have been wanting for some time. His price tag raised a few eyebrows – becoming the most expensive defender in the world – but if he continues to play as well as he did against Frank Lampard‘s side he will be worth every penny.
The new signing was named Man of the Match, as the boyhood United fan showed supporters what they had been missing. He made more interceptions, blocks, clearances and headed clearances than anyone on the pitch, and also won the most aerial duals.
“He was solid like a rock and as we know it is very important for a team to have that,” Mourinho said after the game, in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports. “Not just the tactical knowledge but that personality, that sense of reading the game, being alert all the time, the confidence to play. He was fantastic.”
Mourinho would be entitled to feel a little aggrieved, given Maguire was the defender he had wanted to sign at United last summer, only for the club to insist that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were good enough. After the club’s worst defensive record in decades, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it clear improvements needed to be made.
Maguire was signed in the summer, while Smalling and Jones didn’t even get a place on the bench against Chelsea, with youngster Axel Tuanzebe preferred to the pair.
The English duo were supposed to be the next Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but years later, with close to 600 appearances for the club between them, it’s clear that is never going to happen.
Maguire and Victor Lindelof may prove to be a different story though.
The young Swede enjoyed an impressive season last year, sadly surrounded by players who weren’t good enough, and should benefit greatly from playing alongside someone with Maguire’s experience and composure.
“A team can be very dangerous in attack, but if you feel that a defensive mistake is just around the corner, you don’t play as well,” Mourinho continued. “When you can feel that there is something that really allows you to play, you are much more confident. Lindelof can be a very good player and with Maguire I think they can be a very good couple.”
United attacked well on the counter, without having the fears of last season that if they lost possession it could easily result in a goal for the opposition.
Having a solid foundation is so important, with Ferdinand and Vidic proving that when playing a key role in all the success the club enjoyed when they were in the team.
Ferdinand has long been a hero to Maguire, a defender who he has looked up to, not only for his abilities but as a commanding presence in the dressing room.
After the final whistle on Sunday, Maguire went straight to young Scott McTominay for a hug and to give words of encouragement. Some had even tipped the defender to be Ole’s captain this season and you imagine he will be wearing the armband at some point.
The average age of United’s starting line-up was just over 24, the youngest of any side on the opening day of the season, and having a player like Maguire to put his arm around their shoulder and offer advice will be invaluable to this young side.
Of course, with just one game played, it’s far too early to suggest that United have solved their defensive issues that arose since the departure of Ferdinand and Vidic. Chelsea hit the woodwork twice and it could have been a different story if their other efforts weren’t fired straight at De Gea.
But, scoring four goals and keeping a clean sheet is certainly a good start – even if there are still the nagging questions over the midfield.
To be fair, the midfield three upped their performance in the second half, with Pogba and Pereira claiming assists, but they will struggle against better teams.
Even with Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini in the squad, United’s midfield wasn’t good enough.
Now both have left and no replacement was forthcoming. With a midfield that looks far too porous, Maguire’s reliability will be key.
Lindelof needs to step it up another level this season and with the positive addition of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, replacing the ageing and out of position Ashley Young at right-back, that should be easier.
It’s a long season and United supporters won’t get too carried away just yet. But, they couldn’t have made a better start and Maguire played an important role in achieving that.