Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial. Not so bad when you think about it. And, unlike the man who has just left, Romelu Lukaku, both with a reputation for scoring against big clubs.
The first-half enjoyed by Kurt Zouma begged the question: just how much of a pest must David Luiz have been in the last week or so, that this became Frank Lampard’s preferred option. It was Zouma who was the difference between the teams in the opening 45 minutes. His clumsy challenge to concede a penalty the reason Chelsea trailed at half-time
Chelsea are not going to be the force they were minus Eden Hazard and with a transfer embargo stifling recruitment, but even so, this was an impressive scoreline to start United’s campaign.
Not least because, for just over an hour, Chelsea were very much in it and possibly the better side.
David De Gea was the busier goalkeeper; his goal apparatus twice coming to the rescue when he could not.
Yet, in two second-half minutes, United’s strikers took the game away from them. Already leading from a Marcus Rashford penalty, they ended the match as a contest with two breakaway goals that, for now, cut short any conversation about what United might be missing upfront.
Speed. That is what terrifies defenders. And in Rashford and Martial, United possess it in abundance.
Both goals came about because United can move from back to front at a startling pace. The first event began on the edge of United’s own penalty area.
That is where Harry Maguire got the better of Tammy Abrahams – who had a quiet game after an electrifying start – and immediately fed the ball to Rashford. He set off down the field, blue shirts trailing in his wake before releasing Jesse Lingard with an overhit pass. He chased it down, though, the ball finding its way to Andreas Perreira whose low cross was turned in by Martial, his physicality winning the day.
Barely had the game restarted when it was as good as over.
Paul Pogba – passing lovely, work-rate still leaving something to be desired – hit a fine pass that split Chelsea’s defense falling sweetly at the feet of Rashford. In the past, his finishing has been criticized. Not yesterday. He stuck it away, giving Kepa Arrizabalaga no chance. It was a clinical end to the contest.
Not to the scoring, though. With nine minutes remaining, United broke again. It was Pogba this time, his athletic strides powering through Chelsea’s shell-shocked defensive ranks, before delaying his pass to deftly roll the ball to United substitute Daniel James. The young man looked to have missed his chance by hesitating, then had another go and benefitted from a deflection off Emerson for his debut goal.
United’s best chances were often not of their making. Martial had another on 30 minutes, started when Barkley lost the ball, and six minutes later Zouma was first into the book for a desperately ill-timed challenge on Andreas Pereira.
It was about as good an opening day as Solskjaer could have asked for even if it took his side a long time to get going.
But then that sounds a lot like United over the last six years – they’ve picked up results at times and even the odd trophy without really getting going.
The long-awaited rebuild has started with a bang.