A straightforward enough victory over Basel was secured in satisfying fashion as Mourinho rang the changes and was treated to some standout performers from a couple of his fringe players.
Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Ashley Young got the nod at right back whilst groans were audible in pubs across the country as Marouane Fellaini stripped off to replace the injured Paul Pogba. Both, however, were excellent, whilst also Victor Lindelöf enjoyed a drama free debut for the club.
Belgian brute Fellaini started the scoring, powering home after some classic wing play from Young – drop a shoulder, work half a yard of space on the outside, whip a ball high across the six yard box – before adding an assist of his own for another sub, Rashford, late in the game.
Mourinho has a fairly well-founded reputation for dressing room disillusionment later on in his tenures, something explained to us by former Porto man Edgaras Jankauskas last year. His ruthless standards, hefty ego and tendency to rely on a small core of trusted players are undoubtedly factors in this, but it can’t be ignored just how tight a playing unit he tends to foster in his first few years at clubs, something that seems to be emerging this season at United.
Fellaini is currently a prime example. A laughing stock under Van Gaal, Mourinho has worked hard to simplify his game, talk him up whenever possible and rebuild his confidence. The effect has been a player reborn who, despite limited playing time, seems happier than ever at the club and is putting in his finest performances to date. Young, likewise, has been afforded even fewer minutes yet was just as hungry to impress and delivered a quality showing few expected yesterday evening.
Another common criticism is Mourinho’s stern handling of misfiring players. Again, this is often warranted, but for all those who fall by the wayside, it’s only fair to flag up the successes of his uncompromising man management as well. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial were deemed pariahs at points last season, yet both have come back from spells picking splinters out of their backsides to start the season in roaring form.
Incidentally, Rashford’s goal last night means that 6 goals in 5 games have now come from United’s bench this season. If anything, it suggests Mourinho has learnt the lessons of his rise and fall of his second coming at Chelsea.
Whilst successful in 2014/15, winning the Premier League and League Cup, Jose ran his first XI into the ground. Despite a squad of 25 first team players (and several thousand out on loan), his 11 favourite charges racked up 31,057 PL minutes, whilst the other 14 clocked just 6461 between them.
Following a Word Cup summer, this resulted in a first XI exhausted, mentally and physically, that either could not or would not maintain the sky-high standards expected of them. The catastrophe of 2015/16 was his comeuppance.
It remains early days and we’ll only see if Mourinho has truly changed his spots in time, but the early indication is that he’s crafted a much more rounded squad, crucially one that he trusts, compared to years gone by.
All images - PA. Numbers and stats via WhoScored.