Wednesday 21 August 2019

Dream debuts for defensive duo creates new sense of calm

New faces: Harry Maguire takes the ball forward during an impressive Manchester United debut against Chelsea. Photo: Getty Images
New faces: Harry Maguire takes the ball forward during an impressive Manchester United debut against Chelsea. Photo: Getty Images

James Ducker

Manchester United's defending, collectively and individually, has been very much of the haphazard, chaotic variety in recent years.

Elementary mistakes, a lack of composure, disorganisation, miscommunication and little in the way of leadership.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka also looked comfortable in his new surroundings. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Wan-Bissaka also looked comfortable in his new surroundings. Photo: Getty Images

United fans will certainly have watched the hapless figure of Kurt Zouma at Old Trafford yesterday with an acute sense of familiarity.

The Chelsea centre-half was practising the sort of erratic, eccentric defending that has not been uncommon from the home team on this ground, but United will hope they are about to turn a sharp corner.

Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will have gone to bed on Saturday night dreaming about what a perfect debut would look like and this may have been what they had in mind.

The small details matter and, for all the excitement about the result and energetic pressing, not to mention the identity of the goalscorers, which included another lively debutant, Daniel James, there were moments from Wan-Bissaka and Maguire that will have brought out the broadest of smiles on the face of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager.


The second goal originated from Maguire standing up to Tammy Abraham, muscling the Chelsea striker off the ball in one movement and then calmly looking up and playing the ball into the feet of Andreas Pereira to kick-start what would prove an electric break. That was just one example of the composure United paid Leicester City £80million for this summer.

The leadership, the organisation? Well, moments before that, Maguire was ushering Luke Shaw to slot in behind to cover him and effectively sandwich Abraham. Shaw was slow on the uptake but Maguire was not going to be ignored and began pointing forcefully to where he wanted his left-back.

United have not seen too much of that since Rio Ferdinand vacated the building.

It was an indication of what Maguire was brought to do but also a reminder that the back four is not going to correct itself overnight.

This was United's first clean sheet since late February but Chelsea still had plenty of chances and it was interesting to hear Jose Mourinho, the former United manager whose problems with Shaw were well-documented, talk at half-time about how Maguire will come to realise he needs to cover his fellow England defender "a lot of times" this season.

While Maguire oozed a quiet, classy authority, Wan-Bissaka was no less impressive. It took all of six minutes for Old Trafford to start nodding appreciatively at the defender signed from Crystal Palace for £50million to resolve the long-standing problems at right-back.

Paul Pogba, lucky not to lose possession, poked the ball to Wan-Bissaka.

Ashley Young might have launched it upfield but Wan-Bissaka put his foot on the ball, drew two Chelsea defenders in and then nonchalantly rolled a brisk pass into the feet of Pereira to initiate another attack. By the half-hour mark, Wan-Bissaka's name was being sung lustily by the lower Stretford End. It was not a faultless performance. He got sucked in towards Victor Lindelof going for the same ball from Jorginho's pass, giving Emerson the space to fire against the crossbar but, still only 21, no one said he was the finished article.

Solskjaer said his team selections would tell fans everything they need to know. Well, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo - all of whom were fit and available - were omitted from the squad, with academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe a substitute as cover for Maguire and Lindelof.

Chelsea were top in the possession, shots and corners count but not in the one statistic that mattered and the mood at Old Trafford could not have contrasted more starkly to the final day of last season, when United were jeered after a 2-0 defeat to Cardiff City and Pogba was involved in an altercation with a fan.

Whether or not the French midfielder was trying to build bridges at the end by being the last man off the pitch after a summer in which he angled for a move to Real Madrid, this was a very different scene to the Cardiff game.

Berated by one angry supporter on that occasion, here Pogba was saluting all corners of Old Trafford and seeing that applause reciprocated, his last contribution being to hand his shirt to a fan near the tunnel.

Solskjaer really could not have asked for a better start. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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