Manchester United found themselves in the same position last year, claiming wins over AFC Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City, only to very quickly see any iota of positivity vanish in the space of a week following the international break.
Defeat to Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford didn’t just cast questions over Jose Mourinho‘s Man United, it condemned them to an endless spiral of being close to the top four but ultimately consigned to sixth throughout the campaign.
Needless to say, the Portuguese cannot afford to head down the same avenue this time aroind. United need to set the tone ahead of an important month in which they begin their Champions League adventure and League Cup defence.
And that starts with a potentially rocky encounter with Mark Hughes’ Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium on September 9.
The Spaniard has only received five minutes of action this season – against Swansea City – with Mourinho now able to sit back and watch Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic dominate lesser sides, but the 54-year-old will want to call on his tenacious influence ahead of what promises to be a furiously paced encounter.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Jese Rodriguez will most likely feature as inverted winger and Herrera’s running power, coupled with an onus on moving play forward, feels necessary in a game United simply cannot allow to slip away from them.
The youngster was left on the bench during United’s win over Leicester City and immediately sent his manager a message with a game changing cameo in which he provided a crucial opener, paving the way for an ultimately comfy win.
Anthony Martial didn’t do anything wrong last weekend. Quite the opposite, in fact. But the clash with Stoke will require more defensive discipline, with wingers having to track back, and Mourinho ought to give Rashford – a powerful, committed runner capable of doing a job defensively and offensively – the nod over the Frenchman.
Nobody wants to go up against Bailly right now. Ever since pre-season started the Ivorian has been an intractable force, dominating aerial battles and stopping strikers from even touching the ball, let alone doing anything dangerous with it.
He won’t feature against Basel as he serves the final game of his suspension, making his presence at the back – most likely alongside the in-form Phil Jones, who is also banned for United’s Champions League opener – something of a necessity.