JUDGING by their opening three games, Manchester United could be the team to beat in the Premier League this season.
Jose Mourinho’s men have been unstoppable in their unblemished start to their campaign.
Two clean sheets and eight goals scored against West Ham and Swansea saw the Red Devils race to the top of the table.
They then bagged another two against Leicester while the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have already suffered blips.
United’s big name summer signing Romelu Lukaku has quickly started to pay back his £90million fee.
Paul Pogba seems to have had a new lease of life with his best mate in front of him and Nemanja Matic now his partner in midfield.
And even when players like Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford can’t get a start, they are still managing to get on the score sheet.
So what’s behind United’s brilliant beginning to the campaign?
He’s maintained Zlatan’s fire
Romelu Lukaku had little in the way of competition at Everton, but Ibrahimovic, who revealed he had other clubs interested in his availability, won’t have re-signed for the club to sit on the bench.
With an immeasurable level of self-belief, Mourinho will utilise Ibrahimovic’s attitude to Lukaku’s – and his other young forwards’ – advantage.
Whether the club’s number 10 is in the starting line-up or not, the pressure will be on those playing in attack to keep their place, with the most experienced of players who relishes the big games in the second half of the season capable of and itching to take over.
Rebuilt players’ confidence
One of Louis van Gaal’s prominent weaknesses was encouraging those suffering a crisis in confidence; instead he seemed to wash his hands of the trouble.
Mourinho has changed that.
There are some he simply accepted weren’t cut out for life at Old Trafford – Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin as the leading examples – but for others he’s been patient in recognising their value.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan settled slowly, but this season he’s already laid on half of United’s goals.
Anthony Martial has contributed to three, netting two and assisting one.
Phil Jones, meanwhile, has been at the heart of their defence. He’s been patient with those deserving of his time and is slowly but surely building his favoured starting line-up.
He’s started the season afresh
The raving over Ander Herrera’s form was almost endless last season.
But despite tirelessly dominating the midfield and being described by Mourinho earlier this summer as “one of the smartest players he has ever had”, so far the Spaniard has played only five minutes in the league.
In other words, as far as Mourinho is concerned, last season is history.
The Portuguese manger has offered no guarantees to his players, expecting each and every one to earn their place in the team as a new campaign begins.
Not even £31m defender Victor Lindelof has got a look in.
It’s a tactic that can backfire but, as it stands, it’s inspired United to two convincing victories.
He’s weakened the defending champions
No one understands Chelsea’s decision to sell Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, of all clubs.
Antonio Conte didn’t want the Serb following last season, but granting a title rival permission to strengthen their squad with a player who has won two Premier League titles in three full seasons at Stamford Bridge is nonsensical, to say the least.
Already the midfielder’s arrival has given Paul Pogba a new lease of life in the final third.
Just ask Arsenal and Robin van Persie the psychological impact of a deal between rivals.
The whole team is firing
Scoring goals was a big, big problem for Man United last season. Games against mid-table teams were problematic, but this time around they look up for the fight.
United have dispatched eight goals, without reply, against potentially tricky opponents in West Ham and Swansea, and five of those goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of action.
Mourinho’s side are wearing teams down before going in for the kill in the closing stages – a relentless trait associated with champions.