Romelu Lukaku offered echoes of another Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney as he marked his league debut for Jose Mourinho’s team with two clinical goals.
And that, in this brave new world of superinflated transfer fees and even more superinflated player egos, is what £90m (€99m) buys you.
Lukaku cost Jose Mourinho a basic £75m when moving from Everton this summer, with a further £15m to come in add-ons and, according to the selling club at least, Rooney estimated at another £10m as part of the transfer, going in the opposite direction.
£75m, £90m, £100m? It hardly matters to a club of United’s money-generating potential and, last night at least, the only figure that
mattered to Mourinho was a more modest one — two.
The two goals Lukaku scored immediately eased the pressure on the Belgian
following his move and drew echoes of that famous night
in 2004 when the teenaged Rooney scored a hat-trick against Fenerbahce at Old Trafford.
But, more significantly, they were two goals that Mourinho’s United team would have struggled to convert last season as their league campaign fizzled out, the result of too many drawn games, particularly at Old Trafford.
Mourinho saw his team win just eight times in the league at home last season, less than half the totals of Chelsea and Spurs and two fewer than a Burnley team that was under threat of relegation until the final two weeks.
Ten home draws, the vast majority games that United dominated but failed to finish, cost Mourinho 20 points; two of which came in this corresponding fixture when a Zlatan Ibrahimovic equaliser was needed to earn the Reds a 1-1 draw against West Ham.
Those statistics, and Ibrahimovic’s career-threatening knee injury, led to a summer of transfer activity in which not only a proven goalscorer - 25-goal Lukaku — but also a defensive midfielder were priorities.
The logic behind the latter was to free Paul Pogba to spend more time probing towards the opposing goal, rather than shielding his own back four, and the man who eventually took that position, Nemanja Matic, enjoyed a debut almost as impressive as Lukaku’s.
Pogba was integral to a lot of United’s early attacking promise but it was Matic who sparked the rush for the opening goal on 33 minutes when he closed down and dispossessed opposite number Pedro Obiang.
The ball broke for Marcus Rashford who sprinted
upfield, into the space vacated
by Pablo Zabaleta, before
slipping through a perfect pass for the alert Lukaku who beat the last two defenders and scored via the inside of the left-hand post.
The mood around Old Trafford was ecstatic, and in stark contrast to so many games here last season, although it was a position with which supporters were all too familiar last term when their team would take the lead only to surrender an equaliser.
But despite only adding two debutants to this first starting line-up of the new season, Mourinho has a different United team at his disposal this time around and a second goal on 52 minutes underlined the point.
Zabaleta, hopelessly outgunned by Rashford on United’s left, conceded a free-kick and booking for a foul on the youngster and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s delivery picked out Lukaku whose header flew past Joe Hart from just outside the six-yard box.
Strangely, for all their chronic lack of ambition, West Ham did create chances, with David De Gea making a crucial punched save to keep out Edimilson Fernandes’s strike as the first half drew to a close.
An equalising goal then would have given Mourinho an early insight into his team’s new mindset and
similarly, just after scoring their second, United had a
fortunate escape when
Marko Arnautovic’s towering header beat De Gea and clipped the crossbar.
But they were rare moments of hope for the unambitious visitors who as good as fielded a six-man defensive line, so deep were their two holding midfielders for long spells of the game.
Thereafter, the game boiled down in an exercise in whether Lukaku would score a debut hat-trick although the closest he would come was appearing on the end of a three-man break just after the hour and seeing a powerful shot charged down by Zabaleta.
His “failure” to find that third goal mattered little, especially when Mourinho reminded everyone how much pace he has at his disposal in this squad by bringing on Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard as late substitutes.
It was Frenchman Martial, who scored the third as the Hammers all but waved the white flag, as he chased onto Mkhitaryan’s well-weighted through ball and easily beat Hart into his far corner after 87 minutes.
United — and, again, what a contrast to last season — were not finished. Matic started a move in the last minute that ended with Martial slipping a square pass to Pogba who found far too much space and was allowed send a powerful 22-yard shot flying into the net.
It was only the second time Mourinho’s United had scored four goals in a league game — a 4-1 win over Leicester 11 months ago was the other — and, by margin of victory, represented the biggest league win of his reign.
Far, far greater tests await but, as a statement of intent on the opening weekend, this was as impressive as any.
Man United (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 7; Valencia 7, Bailly 7, Jones 6, Blind 6; Pogba 7, Matic 8; Mata 7 (Fellaini 75, 6), Mkhitaryan 8 (Lingard 88), Rashford 8 (Martial 79, 6); Lukaku 9. Subs (not used) Smalling, Romero, Herrera, Darmian.
West Ham (4-2-3-1):
Hart 5; Zabaleta 4, Reid 7, Ogbonna 5, Masuaka 5 (Cresswell 81, 5); Obiang 5, Noble 6 (Rice 60, 6); Ayew 5, Fernandes 5 (Sakho 60, 6), Arnautovic 6; Hernandez 5. Subs (not used) Fonte, Adrian, Collins, Byram.
M Atkinson 7
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