Hull City 0-1 Manchester United

Saturday 27 August 2016 | Premier League | KCOM Stadium | Att: 24,560 | Scorer: Rashford 90′

Manchester United signed off for the international break with another victory to keep up a 100 per cent record in the Premier League so far, and it came in dramatic fashion as Marcus Rashford came off the bench to net a deserved winner for the Reds.
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It was a match United totally dominated, but it took until injury time for the breakthrough to arrive when some superb and dogged play from Wayne Rooney on the left flank teed up Rashford to slot home.

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Mourinho kept faith with the same starting eleven who had impressively beaten Southampton 2-0 eight days earlier, and the seven substitutes were also unchanged. The Reds faced a Hull side who, despite being tipped for relegation having not signed any new players over the summer, sat level on points at kick-off with United after two wins from two.
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The man who had done most of the damage for Mourinho’s men in the opening couple of matches of the season was Zlatan Ibrahimovic and it was the Swede who had the first chance of the game on 10 minutes when he flashed a header just over from Anthony Martial’s cross.

In possession United were dominant, but further clear-cut opportunities were few and far between. A speculative Paul Pogba effort and Juan Mata free-kick were both on target but neither troubled goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic. The Hull stopper was, however, grateful to his captain Curtis Davies, who blocked Rooney’s shot on the line on 37 minutes after some lovely build-up play from Mata.

The Tigers, managed by former United player and assistant manager Mike Phelan, spent much of the first period in their own half and only had some respite when Robert Snodgrass twice went close in quick succession, first with a free-kick and then with an effort at the far post which was well defended by Luke Shaw, while Abel Hernandez struck a decent effort at David De Gea just before the break.

Just before Hernandez’s shot it looked like Ibrahimovic had given the Reds the lead when he latched onto Rooney’s free-kick, but his clever back-heeled effort from an awkward angle found the side-netting much to the striker’s frustration.
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HALF-TIME STATS
Possession: Hull: 37% United 63%
Shots on goal: Hull 5 United 11
Shots on target: Hull 2 United 3
Corners: Hull 0 United 1

The pattern of the first half continued after the break but with the scores still locked at 0-0 when the clock ticked on to the hour-mark, Mourinho felt a change was needed as Henrikh Mkhitaryan replaced Martial in attack.

The Armenian set about making an impact and some incisive passes, good movement and a brilliant burst forward from his own half at one point certainly lifted the Reds, but the dogged Tigers side continued to stand firm and almost stole the lead when Tom Huddlestone’s shot took a huge deflection off the impressive Eric Bailly, but thankfully it dropped wide.

A further attacking threat arrived in the form of Rashford for the final 19 minutes and after Rooney and Pogba had both blasted efforts off target, the 18-year-old drew a brilliant save from Jakupovic after a superb run and shot.

Hull almost conceded two own goals as United kept up the pressure. A Pogba curler two minutes from time also looked to be heading in, but it dropped the wrong side of the post.

It looked like Mourinho’s men would be forced to settle for a point, until some brilliance from Rooney down the left led to Rashford firing in from three yards much to the delight of everyone in red. It was classic United and another memorable moment in the already exciting short career of Marcus Rashford.

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FULL-TIME STATS

Possession: Hull 38% United 62%
Shots: Hull 8 United 29
Shots on target: 2 United 9
Corners: Hull 1 United 6

TEAMS

Hull City: Jakupovic, Robertson, Davies, Meyler, Huddlestone, Hernandez (Maguire 83), Snodgrass (Maloney 48), Clucas, Livermore, Diomande, Elmohamady. Subs not used: Kuciak, Bowen, Olley, Clackstone, Hinchliffe.
Booked: Huddlestone, Meyler.

United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw, Fellaini, Pogba, Mata (Rashford 71), Rooney (Smalling 90), Martial (Mkhitaryan 60), Ibrahimovic. Subs not used: Romero, Herrera, Schneiderlin, Young.
Booked: Fellaini, Rooney, Rashford.

MATCH REACTION

“I’m more than happy to say that we won in ‘Fergie time’. I always believed the goal would arrive.” – Jose Mourinho

“I loved it. Emotion-wise that’s the best I’ve ever felt on the pitch. It was an unreal feeling and it meant to so much to all of us. Matches like these could win you championships.” – Luke Shaw

“It’s a great feeling to score a late winner like that. It’s a massive win for us. We believed until the last second and were fighting for it. It’s well deserved.” – Daley Blind

Manchester United 2-0 Southampton

 Match report: United 2 Southampton 0

Premier League | Old Trafford | Att: 75,326 | Scorers: Ibrahimovic 36, 52 (pen)

Paul Pogba may have been the star attraction beneath the Friday night lights, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic stole the show at Old Trafford after his brace secured a 2-0 win over Southampton that keeps Manchester United top of the Premier League table.

The Swedish striker scored either side of half-time, firstly with a well-taken header and then from the penalty spot, as Jose Mourinho’s men dispatched the visitors in a comfortable fashion that will continue to fuel the belief that the team can challenge for the title this season.

The first home match of the season is always a special occasion for fans, yet this much-anticipated Old Trafford outing was elevated beyond the traditional sense of excitement in light of Pogba’s first appearance since returning to the club following a four-season spell at Juventus. The world-record signing’s every touch was cheered, particularly throughout the opening exchanges, and the stadium would have erupted had his shot from Ibrahimovic’s pass beaten Fraser Forster on 13 minutes.

Southampton did not excel in their first match under new manager Claude Puel, drawing 1-1 with Watford, yet they made a positive start at Old Trafford – firstly, by winning the coin toss and making United attack the Stretford End in the first half, which is against tradition. The Saints then registered shots at goal through Dusan Tadic and Shane Long, in spite of Oriol Romeu going off injured.

Wayne Rooney stung the palms of Forster with a rasping strike on the half-hour mark, and it was the captain who assisted the opener moments later. His superb cross from the right corner-flag was headed home at the back post by Ibrahimovic, the summer signing who made it three goals in as many competitive matches after his strikes in the Community Shield and at Bournemouth.

STATS AT HALF-TIME
Possession:
United 47% Southampton 53%
Shots at goal: United 4 Southampton 6
Shots on target: United 3 Southampton 1
Corners: United 3 Southampton 0

Juan Mata, a scorer at Bournemouth last weekend, blazed over the crossbar and Southampton’s Tadic saw a goal disallowed for offside as the match resumed in entertaining fashion. Anthony Martial then tested Forster with a 20-yard drive from the left wing before Ibrahimovic scored from the penalty spot to double the Reds’ advantage. Luke Shaw won the spot-kick after going to ground inside the area, with Jordy Clasie the guilty party.

Pogba displayed his repertoire of attributes – strength, vision, creativity – and almost added a goal to his performance when heading over from Mata’s corner on 64 minutes. It was at this point when Mourinho turned from his technical area and nodded repeatedly to the crowd while clapping his hands together, as if he was praising their support. He had, of course, spoken about its importance on Thursday, telling MUTV: “If the fans play their part, there will be no chance for the opponent.”

Armenia captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan was introduced to the Old Trafford crowd on 75 minutes, taking the place of Mata on the right, before Martial was replaced by Ander Herrera as Mourinho looked to consolidate the victory in the professional manner that his teams have become known for.

As for Pogba, United’s new no.6, he finished the game despite not playing since the European Championship final on 10 July. While his name was not added to the score sheet, despite going close with a powerful shot wide in the 93rd minute, the 23-year-old’s industrious display in midfield hinted at what will hopefully become a stellar career back at the club he calls “home”. Welcome back, Paul.

STATS AT FULL-TIME
Possession: United 45% Southampton 55%
Shots at goal: United 11 Southampton 11
Shots on target: United 5 Southampton 1
Corners: United 4 Southampton 0

THE TEAMS

United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw, Fellaini, Pogba, Mata (Mkhitaryan 75), Rooney (Smalling 89), Martial (Herrera 22), Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Romero, Schneiderlin, Young, Rashford.

Southampton: Forster, Cedric, Van Dijk, Fonte, Targett, Davis (Austin 67), Romeu (Clasie 11), Hojberg, Tadic, Redmond, Long (Rodriguez 84).
Subs not used: McCarthy, Yoshida, Ward-Prowse, Pied.

Bournemouth 1-3 Manchester United

Jose Mourinho began his Manchester United reign in the Premier League with a 3-1 victory over Bournemouth as Zlatan Ibrahimovic caught the eye and got himself on the scoresheet once again for his new club.

(Premier League | 14 August 2016 | Vitality Stadium | Scorers: A.Smith 69′ / Mata 40′, Rooney 64′, Ibrahimovic 69′)

It was Juan Mata, playing in his 52nd consecutive league game for United having not missed one since February 2015, who put the Reds ahead after capitalising on a defensive area just before the break. Wayne Rooney headed a second after the interval, before the impressive Ibrahimovic drilled home from 25 yards. An Adam Smith strike was a mere consolation for Bournemouth.

Mourinho made two changes to the side that won at Wembley in the Community Shield seven days earlier as Jesse Lingard, who picked up a knock in that game, and Michael Carrick made way for Mata and Ander Herrera. There were Premier League debuts for Eric Bailly – in imperious form at the back alongside Daley Blind – Ibrahimovic and, later in the match, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Antonio Valencia notched his 250th appearance for the Reds.

The Ecuadorian and Swede had already linked well during pre-season with Valencia setting up Ibrahimovic for a goal on his friendly debut in Gothenburg and another on his official Reds bow at Wembley. And the duo almost combined again on 13 minutes but Simon Francis bravely rose to head clear as Ibrahimovic was about to pounce. That was the only real half-chance of any note during a scrappy and pretty even opening 20 minutes.

United’s main threat was down the right side, with Valencia seeing plenty of the ball in attack. He was involved in the best move of the opening period on 27 minutes when Herrera found him in space. His pull-back found Mata who set up Wayne Rooney, but the skipper couldn’t get enough pace on the ball to trouble Artur Boruc.

In keeping with the scrappiness of the game, the Reds took the lead five minutes before the interval after a double defensive error from Francis. The defender attempted to play Herrera’s ball over the top to his keeper but his backpass was too short, allowing Mata to steal in. His shot was saved by Boruc but the ball rebounded back off Francis into the Spaniard’s path and he had the simple task of tapping home from close range.SA

HALF-TIME STATS
Possession: Bournemouth 51% United 49%
Shots: Bournemouth 3 United 5
Shots on target: Bournemouth 0 United 3
Corners: Bournemouth 0 United 2

Both teams turned things up a notch at the start of the second period, with Rooney going close on 51 minutes after he latched onto a lovely mid-air flick from Ibrahimovic, but Boruc came out to block his effort.

After a Rooney penalty appeal had been waved away, the captain got himself on the scoresheet for goal 246 of his Reds career. A lovely flick from Mata found Valencia and his centre was mishit by Anthony Martial straight to Rooney, who headed home with ease.

The Reds were enjoying themselves in the Bournemouth sunshine and things got even better for Mourinho’s men just after the hour mark. A minute after Ibrahimovic had seen a free-kick brilliantly saved by Boruc, the Swede picked up possession 25 yards out and angled a lovely low drive into the bottom corner to make it two goals in two competitive games for the Reds, ensuring he has now scored on his Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Champions League bows.


That looked to be game over, but Adam Smith gave the hosts hope on 69 minutes when he cut inside from the right and blasted an effort into the top corner.

The Reds held firm from there on, however, with David De Gea making a superb save in stoppage time, and ensured a winning start for Mourinho in his first league game. United fans will hope this is the first of many.

FULL-TIME STATS
Possession: Bournemouth 47% United 53%
Shots: Bournemouth 5 United 11
Shots on target: Bournemouth 1 United 7
Corners: Bournemouth 2 United 2

TEAMS
United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw; Fellaini, Herrera; Mata (Mkhitaryan 75), Rooney (c) (Memphis 89), Martial (Schneiderlin 85); Ibrahimovic.

Subs not used: Romero, Rojo, Carrick, Rashford.

Booked: Herrera

Bournemouth: Boruc, Francis (c), A.Smith, S.Cook, Daniels, Arter, L.Cook (Gradel 82), Surman, King, Ibe (Afobe 68), Wilson (Grabban 67).

Subs not used: Federici, Gosling, Ake, B.Smith.

REACTION
“I’m really happy. It’s just the start; we need to improve every day. But we won and that’s the most important thing.” – Jose Mourinho

“It’s always nice when you’re scoring. I had a couple of chances and maybe could have got one more, but I was pleased with my overall performance and getting the goal and the three points.” – Wayne Rooney

“I always try to create some chances to help my team-mates. Whoever scored, it wouldn’t have been important, we just wanted to get the win and start the Premier League season well. It feels good [to be in the Premier League]. I feel alive.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

“The new guys are good and bring quality. Zlatan had one chance and got one goal which is good for us. [Eric] Bailly was strong defensively and in the Premier League we need that and we hope he can continue like that.” – Marouane Fellaini

PAUL POGBA Return Manchester United

VIDEO: PAUL POGBA INTERVIEW PART 1
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Paul Pogba gave an exclusive interview to MUTV shortly after completing his transfer back to Manchester United from Juventus. In part one, the French midfielder spoke to David Stowell about his excitement at returning to the Reds, and of how he’s grown as a player in his four years away. Look out for part two from 09:00 BST on Tuesday…
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Paul, welcome back to Manchester United. How do you sum up your emotions right now?
There’s no words, to be honest, there’s no words. I just came back to Carrington. It was like I’d just come back home. I just went for a holiday, looks like I went for a holiday. I’ve come back home, I’m happy and I see everyone, the same persons. It’s just a great feeling, to be honest.

I suppose it’s a funny question after what you’ve just said but why are you back here at United? What made you come back?
I think it’s destiny, I would say it’s destiny. First my mum told me I would come back here and I told her, ‘You never know, you’ll see.’ For myself as well it’s a big challenge too, just to come back to where I came from, where I grew up, where I started. I didn’t finish what I started here so I think I came here to finish it.

And of course, you have to listen to your mum…
My mum, she says ‘Your mum’s always right.’ So she was right this time, so it’s good.

And how does it feel to be the world’s most expensive footballer? That’s quite an achievement with all that you’ve already achieved on the pitch…
The thing with me is I only think about the pitch. I want to do great, I want to be one of the best, I want to win titles, I want to achieve things and that’s all; that’s why I came here, just to do this, to become one of the best and to win titles because I know this club has to win titles. This club is created to win titles, to win things, to win big things. I just focus on this and that’s it. I’m just ready to go and work on that and just kill it. (smiles)

Has it been a mad summer for you, playing in the Euros at home for France and then being linked with different clubs?
Yeah. Was there a bit of sadness? Of course, because we lost the final at home. But I will say I’m happy. It was a bad thing for a good thing so I’m happy now. I’m back home and it’s something crazy, it’s really crazy, I cannot explain. I’m very, very happy, the feeling I have in my body. I can’t wait to start.

What’s it like being Paul Pogba now, compared to when you were here at 18 or 19, in this indoor arena at the Academy?
Well, I was younger. Now I’m taller and bigger (laughs). It’s just like… as I told you… it looks like I went for a holiday and I came back home. I was meant to come back here. I feel this. I always had this United thing in my heart and that’s why I came back. I’m happy, just happy.

How have you changed as a player since you were here at United the first time around? What have you learned about your game, about yourself? How are you different?
I’m more experienced, I’ve won titles at Juventus. I’ve been playing with big players like when I started at Man United, of course. I came back. I’ve not come back from the Academy now; I went to play somewhere else and I came back, I would say, as a person, as an adult. I would say with experience, with more games, so I think that’s the difference.

Source : http://www.manutd.com/en/News-And-Features/Exclusive-Interviews/2016/Aug/video-new-manchester-united-signing-paul-pogba-mutv-interview-part-1.aspx


Manchester United is delighted to announce that Paul Pogba has completed his transfer from Italian club Juventus. Paul joins on a five-year contract, with the option to extend for a further year.

PAUL POGBA PHOTO PAUL COOPER
Paul, 23, has been with Juventus for four seasons, making 124 appearances and scoring 28 goals. He joined the Bianconeri from United in 2012.

The midfielder has been capped by France on 38 occasions, scoring 6 goals and was a member of the recent squad that reached the final of Euro 2016.

Paul Pogba said:

“I am delighted to rejoin United. It has always been a club with a special place in my heart and I am really looking forward to working with José Mourinho. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Juventus and have some fantastic memories of a great club with players that I count as friends. But I feel the time is right to go back to Old Trafford. I always enjoyed playing in front of the fans and can’t wait to make my contribution to the team. This is the right club for me to achieve everything I hope to in the game.”

José Mourinho said:

“Paul is one of the best players in the world and will be a key part of the United team I want to build here for the future. He is quick, strong, scores goals and reads the game better than many players much older than he is. At 23, he has the chance to make that position his own here over many years. He is young and will continue to improve; he has the chance to be at the heart of this club for the next decade and beyond.”

Manchester United 2016/17 Fixtures

FOOTBALL NEWS

15/06/2016 09:00, Report by Mark Froggatt

PREMIER LEAGUE RELEASE 2016/17 FIXTURE LIST: UNITED FACE BOURNEMOUTH AWAY FIRST

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The 2016/17 Premier League fixture list was released on Wednesday morning and Manchester United will begin the new season with a trip to Bournemouth.

It will, of course, be Jose Mourinho’s first top-flight match in charge of the Reds and the Portuguese coach will be determined to start with a victory over Eddie Howe’s Cherries at the Vitality Stadium. United’s opening home clash is against Southampton in the second fixture.

The first Manchester derby has been scheduled for 10 September at Old Trafford – as you can see in the full fixture list below – and that pits Mourinho against the Blues’ new boss Pep Guardiola. Our new manager will also face rivals Liverpool at Anfield on 15 October before returning to former club Chelsea a week later.

Other standout fixtures include the Boxing Day match against Sunderland at Old Trafford, a trip to West Ham United’s new Olympic Stadium on 2 January and the final game against Crystal Palace, the club beaten by the Reds in this year’s FA Cup final, at Old Trafford.

As ever, it is worth highlighting that all dates released by the Premier League are very much subject to change, with broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport yet to decide which matches they will show live.

You can download these fixtures to your calendar with our exclusive app at www.manutd.com/calendar.

Premier League fixtures 2016/17

Sat Aug 13 Bournemouth A
Sat Aug 20 Southampton H
Sat Aug 27 Hull City A
Sat Sep 10 Manchester City H
Sat Sep 17 Watford A
Sat Sep 24 Leicester City H
Sat Oct 1 Stoke City H
Sat Oct 15 Liverpool A
Sat Oct 22 Chelsea A
Sat Oct 29 Burnley H
Sat Nov 5 Swansea City A 
Sat Nov 19 Arsenal H
Sat Nov 26 West Ham United H
Sat Dec 3 Everton A
Sat Dec 10 Tottenham Hotspur H
Tue Dec 13 Crystal Palace A
Sat Dec 17 West Bromwich Albion A
Mon Dec 26 Sunderland H
Sat Dec 31 Middlesbrough H
Mon Jan 2 West Ham United A
Sat Jan 14 Liverpool H
Sat Jan 21 Stoke City A
Tue Jan 31 Hull City H
Sat Feb 4 Leicester City A
Sat Feb 11 Watford H
Sat Feb 25 Manchester City A
Sat Mar 4 Bournemouth H
Sat Mar 11 Southampton A
Sat Mar 18 Middlesbrough A
Sat Apr 1 West Bromwich Albion H
Tue Apr 4 Everton H
Sat Apr 8 Sunderland A
Sat Apr 15 Chelsea H
Sat Apr 22 Burnley A
Sat Apr 29 Swansea City H
Sat May 6 Arsenal A
Sat May 13 Tottenham Hotspur A
Sun May 21 Crystal Palace H

Dates are subject to change. Fixtures compiled by the Premier League in association with Atos.

Manchester United OKAY

FA Cup Victory Would Be Perfect Point For Manchester United To Say Ta-Ra To Louis Van Gaal

It’s very rare that managers leave their clubs at a point that’s right for both parties. Usually either the club want them to stay, or the manager doesn’t want to go but is shown the door because of poor results.

But if Manchester United were to beat Crystal Palace on Saturday to win the FA Cup then they’ll have stumbled upon the perfect moment to terminate Louis Van Gaal’s contract while also allowing the Dutch manager to leave with his head held high.

At the moment, Louis Van Gaal insists that he’ll still be Manchester United’s manager come the start of next season. But he’ll be more than aware of the rising discontent at Old Trafford, while he’ll also know that finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on Champions League football is not good enough for a club of United’s size.

But if Manchester United were to win the FA Cup and then Van Gaal was to depart, he could insist that he’d returned the club to winning ways while they could then set about trying to appoint the right man to get them back amongst the European elite.

To be fair to Louis Van Gaal that’s not too far from the truth. Obviously missing out on the Champions League was a huge step back, but if you look at the current United team you can see Van Gaal’s impact.

Not only have United been extremely solid in defence – conceding the joint least amount of Premier League goals in the 2015/2016 season – but with David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford United now have a core of exciting young players that have established themselves as regulars. The progress has just been too slow though.

As Leicester City sensationally proved over the last 12 months, with one or two pinpoint purchases and the appointment of the right manager, there’s every chance that could United could still make startling improvement next season.

But after Manchester United didn’t get into the top 4 when it was really there for the taking and having spent over £250 million over the last two seasons rather poorly, Louis Van Gaal can no longer be trusted to move the club forward.

While a defeat to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final would see Van Gaal depart to a chorus of vitriol from rightfully infuriated Manchester United fans, victory would provoke a celebration that’d briefly erase the memories of the tedious play that they’ve had to endure for long spells of his tenure.

It would also leave enough room for Manchester United to say a genial goodbye to Louis Van Gaal, before they then quickly moved ahead to, hopefully, a brighter future.

English Premier League team of the season: the best XI so far

Premier League team of the season: the best XI so far

With almost one-third of the season gone, two players from Leicester City and two from Southampton make our side but Arsenal provide more individuals than any other club – and there is only one from the leaders, Manchester City

Our Premier League team of the season so far.

David de Gea (Manchester United)
Outwitting Real Madrid and convincing De Gea to sign a new contract might just be Manchester United’s greatest triumph so far in the post-Ferguson era. The farcical sight of the young Spaniard sitting alongside Víctor Valdés and Anders Lindegaard to watch Sergio Romero play seems a hazy memory now, and De Gea has demonstrated his mental fortitude by putting all that ballyhoo behind him and immediately responding with top-class performances. He has made the extraordinary routine, although even by his standards the save from José Fonte’s header that helped United to an improbable victory at St Mary’s in September was phenomenal. Keep up his current form and the 25-year-old will have been worth close to his age in points this season.

Manchester United’s David de Gea, here tipping the ball over against Crystal Palace, has excelled since a move to Real Madrid failed to go through.
Manchester United’s David de Gea, here tipping the ball over against Crystal Palace, has excelled since a move to Real Madrid failed to go through. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Defenders

Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal)
Another young Spaniard about whom there were once questions over Premier League suitability. It is less than a year since Bellerín was “abandoned” by Per Mertesacker to endure a gruelling ordeal in a bruising Arsenal defeat by Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. Bellerín has gone on not only to prove he can cut it in the Premier League but that he is a cut above most other defenders. And he contributes plenty in attack, too, thanks to blinding speed and smart choices. At 20 he offers ample scope to get even better, and it is an encouraging sign that in matches where it had initially looked as if his rapid opponent might get the better of him – Jefferson Montero at Swansea, for example (or Douglas Costa against Bayern Munich) – he has quickly risen to the challenge and come out emphatically on top.

Héctor Bellerín has impressed with his defending, including here at Swansea, and contributed for Arsenal in attack.
Héctor Bellerín has impressed with his defending, including here at Swansea, and contributed for Arsenal in attack. Photograph: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Virgil van Dijk (Southampton)

The centre-back might have made a calamitous start to his international career but his first steps in the Premier League have been immaculate. He has played every minute of every Southampton league match since arriving in September, almost effortlessly forming a solid partnership with the excellent José Fonte. Commanding in the air, tough in the tackle and composed on the ball, he has been both an effective blocker and able builder from the back. He has also been a menace at the other end from corners and can take a mean free-kick. Southampton bought Van Dijk from Celtic for about £11.5m, which is not much more than Tottenham Hotspur paid Atlético Madrid for Toby Alderweireld, who has made a big difference at White Hart Lane but who has not been missed at St Mary’s after his loan there last season, thanks to Van Dijk.

Virgil van Dijk has been commanding in the air and reliable with his passing and tackling since joining Southampton from Celtic.
Virgil van Dijk has been commanding in the air and reliable with his passing and tackling since joining Southampton from Celtic. Photograph: Scott Heppell/AP

Chris Smalling (Manchester United)

Back in the summer, most people saw problems ahead for Manchester United’s supposedly dodgy defence but Smalling saw an opportunity and has seized it decisively. The 25-year-old has matured into a highly accomplished defender. He remains dominant in duels, his positioning and reading of matches have evolved enormously and his consistency is now exemplary. De Gea is not the only reason United have the best defensive record in the league so far.

Chris Smalling has matured into a highly accomplished defender and is a big reason why Manchester United have conceded so few goals.
Chris Smalling has matured into a highly accomplished defender and is a big reason why Manchester United have conceded so few goals. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Nacho Monreal (Arsenal)

When it comes to left-backs, we should recall the promising start made to the season by Luke Shaw before that unfortunate injury, and also note the unsurprisingly excellent form by Ryan Bertrand since his return from injury, but most of all we should acknowledge the quiet efficiency with which Monreal has secured the position at Arsenal, where he was once considered second-choice behind Kieran Gibbs. He has played every minute of every league game so far this season and has seemed tougher, more confident and more reliable than ever.

Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal has played every minute of every league game this season and has seemed more reliable than ever.
Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal has played every minute of every league game this season and has seemed more reliable than ever. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)

Even the sun gets eclipsed sometimes. Mahrez was withdrawn at half-time after failing to shine at Bournemouth and he was blotted out completely for the trip to Norwich. But he has lit up practically every other Leicester match. Blessed with rare close control and a far-out imagination, the Algerian is a magician who does more than entertain – he also decides matches, his transformation of the game against Aston Villa, in which Leicester were 2-0 down and emerged as 3-2 victors, being one example of many. He scores goals, creates goals and works unselfishly for his team, while making it all look wonderful fun.

Riyad Mahrez has shown with Leicester that he is a magician who does more than entertain – he also decides matches.
Riyad Mahrez has shown with Leicester that he is a magician who does more than entertain – he also decides matches. Photograph: Andy Thompson/ActionPlus/Corbis

Fernandinho (Manchester City)

If one of the themes of the season so far has been the diminished form of established stars such as Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fàbregas and Diego Costa, another has been the blooming of players who took time to take root in England. Fernandinho has been radiant this season; more dynamic and powerful than ever but also showing the panache that had seldom been seen from him at Manchester City. Last season his offensive contribution pretty much amounted to providing a platform for Yaya Touré; this term his surges into the box have become a thrilling additional feature of his and City’s play.

Fernandinho has been powerful and dynamic, and has shown greater panache than ever before with Manchester City.
Fernandinho has been powerful and dynamic, and has shown greater panache than ever before with Manchester City. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Mesut Özil (Arsenal)

Özil was brilliant when he first arrived at Arsenal and then he seemed to shrivel up and disappear. He is back. And he may be better than ever. He says bulking up has helped withstand attempts to bash him off his stride. What is clear is that he is now a much more regular influence on matches, with his vision and precision integral to Arsenal. He has forged a particularly delightful understanding with Alexis Sánchez, as memorably showcased in the destruction of Manchester United, but even when the Chilean has been below par, Özil has kept probing and prising opponents apart.

Mesut Özil is having a much more regular influence on matches, with his vision and precision integral to Arsenal.
Mesut Özil is having a much more regular influence on matches, with his vision and precision integral to Arsenal. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Dimitri Payet (West Ham)

One of the low points of the season has been the tackle that has put this Frenchman out of action for around three months. That will distort West Ham’s campaign and detract from our enjoyment of their matches, as Payet’s skills and incision have been among the highlights of the season so far. He is one of those players whose repertoire manages to convey simultaneously impish cheek and high-brow sophistication, his feint and dink against Crystal Palace being a beautiful case in point. His sidefooter into the top corner against Newcastle was also evidence that he sees things differently to average players. We look forward to seeing him in action again as soon as possible.

It is a blow to West Ham and to the Premier League that Dimitri Payet is out for about three months after being hurt in a tackle by Everton’s James McCarthy.
It is a blow to West Ham and to the Premier League that Dimitri Payet is out for about three months after being hurt in a tackle by Everton’s James McCarthy. Photograph: IPS/REX Shutterstock

Strikers

Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

You can’t argue with 12 goals in 12 games. All types of goals, too. And much more besides. Defending against the Leicester forward must be like having workmen using a pneumatic drill outside your bedroom window all night, not a moment’s respite, a royal pain in the head. Vardy’s speed, endeavour and sharpness help make Leicester lethal on the counterattack, while the same qualities, plus his canny link-up play, enable them to prosper from initiating attacks too.

Jamie Vardy has scored 12 times in 12 Premier League games for Leicester City but his speed and endeavour have been eye-catching as well as his goals.

Graziano Pellè (Southampton)

There is no better exponent of the one-man frontline role than this Italian. His power and mobility enable him to bully several defenders in a single game, as various members of Manchester United’s and Chelsea’s backlines have memorably found out this season. He also has the technique – including a chest-passing repertoire that even Marouane Fellaini may envy – and wisdom to serve as the ideal fulcrum for attacks. He is a perfect target for Dusan Tadic’s crosses and a deft pivot for Sadio Mané and the widely underrated Steven Davis.

Graziano Pellè, here scoring for Southampton in their win at Chelsea, has been an outstanding one-man frontline.
Graziano Pellè, here scoring for Southampton in their win at Chelsea, has been an outstanding one-man frontline. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Substitutes

Jack Butland (Stoke City) Stoke missed Ryan Shawcross badly during the fine defender’s absence but they have not missed Asmir Begovic.

Allan Nyom (Watford) The forward runs, defensive solidity and all-action intrepidness of the Watford right-back have made him a terrific addition to the Premier League so far.

Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) He was ropey in the north London derby but has mostly been superb this season.

Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City) If Leicester have not missed Esteban Cambiasso, nor needed Gokhan Inler, it is because Drinkwater has patrolled their midfield with strength and smartness.

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) Like Raheem Sterling, the Belgian has quickly shown why Manchester City were so keen to get him, with his passing, shooting and general ability to make things happen from anywhere adding variety and unpredictability to the league leaders’ play.

Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) Possessed of lovely balance and touch, admirable strength and, for a 19-year-old, supernatural calm, the Spurs midfielder already looks at home in the upper reaches of the Premier League.

Odion Ighalo (Watford) His partnership with Troy Deeney is only one of the reasons why Watford look a strong bet to survive.

Manager
Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)
Claudio Ranieri’s early stewardship of Leicester City has combined impressive results with exhilarating performances.

Claudio Ranieri’s early stewardship of Leicester City has combined impressive results with exhilarating performances.
Claudio Ranieri’s early stewardship of Leicester City has combined impressive results with exhilarating performances. Photograph: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

The Italian has kept the spirit of last season burning, usually got his team selections right, made decisive in-play switches and presided over exhilarating performances while achieving results that few would have predicted. So far he looks to have been an inspired appointment, and all those pre-season sceptics who said he was the wrong man to replace Nigel Pearson should go bury their heads in the sand in shame.

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