As opening games go, Manchester United will have to be happy with this one. They won, their new signings all seemed to have fun and Ole Gunnar Solskjær was noisily serenaded by all four sides of the ground. Sure, there was the impertinence of José Mourinho, in his new role in the television studios, suggesting that Manchester City’s B team would stand a better chance of winning the Premier League. Yet this was the fifth season in a row United have won their first game and the last time that happened in the top division was 1910 – the very year that Old Trafford opened for business.
Not that anyone should be getting too carried away just yet or, indeed, thinking Mourinho might have been wrong. A 4-0 winning margin does not quite tell the full story, particularly when taking into account a first half in which Chelsea’s players often gave their opponents the run-around, hitting the woodwork twice as well as creating all sorts of danger.
Ultimately, though, it turned into a chastening experience for Frank Lampard, taking charge of his first match as Chelsea manager. Marcus Rashford, in particular, profited from Chelsea’s shortcomings in defence, opening the scoring with a first-half penalty and then racing away to put in the third goal little more than a minute after Anthony Martial had doubled United’s lead. The indignities for Lampard were stacking up and he had to endure the now familiar “sacked in the morning” chant after Daniel James confirmed United’s second-half superiority late on with a debut goal, eight minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Yet the more pertinent song, perhaps, came a few minutes earlier when the Stretford End made it clear what they thought of Graeme Souness, the long-term critic of Paul Pogba. Pogba had just supplied the best pass of the match to dissect the entire Chelsea defence, resulting in Rashford sprinting through the middle to slip the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga and make it 3-0. Pogba also supplied the decisive pass for James to score with a deflected shot and, on this evidence, maybe even Souness might be forced to concede that the French World Cup winner can bring more good than bad to this club.
Pogba was the last player to leave the pitch, staying back to applaud the section of the Stretford End that has not always ushered him down the tunnel so warmly. It felt strategic as if he wanted to repair some of the damage from having said he wanted to find another club.