MANCHESTER, England — Three wins out of three for Manchester United, just like the start of last season. No wonder Jose Mourinho is so restrained this time around.
Far from laying the foundations for an English Premier League title challenge, United faded after its trio of successes last August and — with far too many draws — slumped over the line in sixth place.
“I’m not getting carried away,” Mourinho said on Saturday after the 2-0 victory over Leicester.
There is a change, though, at the start of Mourinho’s second campaign — one the manager is keen to talk up. United has its swagger back. That was clear as Leicester’s resistance was battered, even though the victory relied on goals in the last 20 minutes from substitutes Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini.
“The difference is the quality of our football,” Mourinho said. “The team is playing very well and I’m very confident. We are comfortable on the ball and dangerous on the counterattack. But nine points after three matches is nothing different for us because we did that last season.”
What Mourinho sees is a team more comfortable in possession and threatening when launching counterattacks. United wasn’t even subdued by Romelu Lukaku’s penalty being saved early in the second half by Kasper Schmeichel.
“When you miss a penalty with half an hour to go,” Mourinho said, “usually there is a little collapse or at least a gray period in the game.”
Like one of last season’s 15 draws, at home to Bournemouth.
“After the penalty, we were emotionally in trouble,” Mourinho recalled of the March draw, “and this time we missed a penalty and we weren’t emotionally in trouble. We kept playing and then I made the changes to intensify the dynamic in attack and to bring on Marcus.”
Rashford replaced Juan Mata and made an impact within three minutes.
Eric Bailly and Paul Pogba missed chances to make a headed connection with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner before Rashford did connect in the 70th minute.
“It was easy to know it is the goal,” Mourinho said, “because it is the first time I really understood the stadium was full.”
Mourinho didn’t see the goal, relying instead on the fans’ cheers, because he was already planning his next substitution.
Mkhitaryan then made way for Fellaini, who was on target in the 82nd with a goal all the substitutes played a part in. Rashford sent the ball down the left flank to Jesse Lingard, who had replaced Anthony Martial, and his shot was turned in by Fellaini from close range.
Heading into the international break, United has collected a maximum nine points without conceding.
“If I have to choose a word to describe my team, I would have to say, ‘Solid,'” Mourinho said. “All the players are motivated. They are on the bench waiting for a chance.”
And that depth of resources in reserve on the bench sets United apart from some title rivals.
“It doesn’t matter if they play from the beginning, if they come from the bench,” Mourinho said. “The group is solid, very, very friendly in between games and (there’s) great empathy.”
It encourages Mourinho that United is on the right path to collect its first title since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. A trophy collected even more recently, and remarkably for the first time in 2016 by Leicester, which has only three points from its opening three games.
“We knew we would have to frustrate coming here and I thought we did that and did it well,” Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare said. “Of course we needed to do a bit better with the ball at times but I thought for large chunks of the game we did. We knew they would have moments, and those moments they were able to capitalize on.”
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