Jose Mourinho finally gets the Man Utd juggernaut moving
An eight game unbeaten run in the league and a favourable Christmas schedule puts United back in the Champions League hunt
Manchester United eased past West Brom on Saturday evening, courtesy of two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The result leaves Jose Mourinho's team in sixth place, still 13 points behind league leaders Chelsea, but keeping pace with the teams behind them.
And while Chelsea have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, thanks to their ten-game winning run, United have worked hard to get their season back on track and are now unbeaten in eight games with three wins in a row.
They have not been beaten since the humiliating 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in October, and since that setback the signs have been encouraging for Jose Mourinho. Not only has his side ground out results in recent weeks, they have started to look the part.
"It was not so much the victory at the Hawthorns against an in-form West Bromwich Albion side that pleased Jose Mourinho. It was the manner of it," says Jim White of the Daily Telegraph.
The first goal, converted by Ibrahimovic after a stunning break featuring Antonio Valencia and Jesse Lingard, could have been scored by any of the great United teams, he says.
"Under Louis Van Gaal’s sterile, risk-averse priorities, United were a barren wasteland of creativity. Now they are slowly beginning to take off once again."
And despite the number of negative headlines surrounding Mourinho since he took over at Old Trafford "it is growing increasingly evident that behind the scenes he has lifted the squad morale and forged a spirit of togetherness", says White. "A spirit which has helped engender a benevolent circle of confidence which has allowed the players deliver the more expressive style of play expected by the club traditions."
The emergence of Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones as a centre-back pairing is part of the transformation, says Alan Smith of The Times. Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have also been influential.
And against West Brom "a year to the day since his dismissal at Chelsea, Mourinho's team displayed some of the hallmarks for which his sides have been known for many years", he says.
Their current run is their best since early 2015 and after three wins in the space of seven days "there are clear signs that the juggernaut is starting to pick up a little speed", agrees Stuart James of The Guardian.
"With home fixtures to come against Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the league table could make for even better reading for United by the time the year comes to a close. They are not playing vintage attacking football by any stretch, yet United are finding a way to win matches and producing flashes of brilliance, with the lovely opening goal against Albion a case in point."
The change that has come over United has been "almost imperceptible," says Adam Shergold of the Daily Mail, but United are finally "becoming the team that Jose Mourinho wants them to be".
A settled line-up is key, he says. "After early season experimentation, Mourinho seems to have settled on his strongest United XI and more regular playing time together has forged them into an effective unit... [and] with momentum on their side, a push for the Champions League places should not be beyond them".