For every person ready to hand Manchester United the tag of title favourites after their 4-0 win over West Ham United last week there was another urging caution at getting carried away over a single Premier League fixture.
But, after United’s second 4-0 win in six days over Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday it will be that little bit harder to play down the form of Jose Mourinho’s side as a flash in the pan. Sure, we are still only 180 minutes into a very long season, but this was another showing of power, poise and dominance the like of which United have rarely delivered in recent years.
While Swansea came out of the blocks quickly, they couldn’t make much impression other than when Jordan Ayew’s cross-cum-shot came back off David de Gea’s bar. With the home threat quelled, United soon took over and they themselves could have led had Phil Jones not also found the woodwork when rising to meet a Juan Mata corner.
There will be some who point to Jonathan Moss’ decision not to send off Paul Pogba in the first half as a key moment, and the referee may well have had every right to produce the red card after the Frenchman fouled Martin Olsson all over two minutes after being booked.
But Pogba’s first yellow was more down to him having tested the ref’s patience than for any callousness in the challenge, with Marcus Rashford having been given a stern warning seconds earlier. In many ways it was a reminder of Ander Herrera’s second yellow card in the FA Cup defeat at Chelsea last season. Against that backdrop, two bookings for Pogba for two relatively minor offences would have been harsh, and it was a fair judgement by Moss to give the midfielder one final chance.
It became an altogether more contentious decision when Pogba played a huge role in United’s opener, rising unchallenged to head against the bar from an excellent left-wing corner by Daley Blind. While the initial effort hit the line and stayed out, Eric Bailly followed up to blast into an empty net.
As symbols of change go, this was the perfect reflection of how United have become a more sturdy proposition. So often last term they were found regularly frustrating fans with their meagre offerings from set-pieces, but here they looked far more controlled and in control than had been their way in 2017-18.
United title-winning teams of years gone by have littered their seasons with just such performances away from home. The caveat may remain that they won their first three games last term and finished 24 points behind champions Chelsea, but there is a very different feel about Mourinho’s men this time around.
This was a game which might have seen them squander a point 12 months ago, but the professional attitude was on display in abundance. Instead of conceding a late goal, United doubled down and took the Swans to the cleaners.
Romelu Lukaku eventually got the ball under control before finishing the game as a contest, then both Pogba and substitute Anthony Martial followed him onto the scoresheet with goals on the break within four more minutes.
Mourinho himself insisted this week that his side are not favourites, but there is surely now no debating the fact they will at least have a say for the first time in half a decade.