MANCHESTER, England (AP) – New signing Romelu Lukaku scored twice and Paul Pogba capped an ominous team display with a long-range strike as Manchester United beat West Ham 4-0 in their opening game of the Premier League season on Sunday.
With offseason recruit Nemanja Matic also excelling in central midfield, United looks to have a side that can seriously challenge for its first league title since 2013, Alex Ferguson’s final year at the club.
Lukaku finished off a quick counterattack – sparked by Matic’s closing-down of an opponent in the center circle – to put United ahead in the 33rd minute. The striker added a second with a header from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s free kick in the 52nd.
Substitute Anthony Martial ran onto Mkhitaryan’s through-ball to slot home a third goal in the 87th and Pogba was given space to curl in from 25 meters, completing United’s biggest league win under Jose Mourinho.
“We have reasons to be optimistic,” Mourinho said, before adding: “My feet are on the ground and I am calm.”
Yet this was a display to strike fear into United’s title rivals – especially champion Chelsea, which was beaten to the signing of Lukaku and then made what appears an ill-judged decision to sell Matic to United.
Lukaku will take many of the plaudits but Matic played as significant a role in his position as midfield anchorman, breaking up attacks, winning headers in front of the back four and giving fellow midfielder Pogba freedom to attack.
United’s defense was given an easy ride with Matic stationed in front of them, and Pogba could also thrive this season.
Mourinho has won the league title in his second season with his last five clubs. On this evidence, that streak could continue on the back of another summer of heavy spending by the 20-time English champions.
Lukaku was the signature signing at 75 million pounds ($97 million) and he made it three goals in two competitive games, after his consolation against Real Madrid in the Super Cup on Tuesday. In terms of work rate and pace, he is an upgrade on Zlatan Ibrahimovic – United’s main striker last season.
“He is playing well, working hard,” Mourinho said of Lukaku. “For any striker, they can play phenomenally well but if no goals, the pressure can be on them … He knows from me, no pressure at all.”
Lukaku has now scored nine goals in nine Premier League games against West Ham, and 11 goals in 11 games in all competitions.
West Ham fielded its four summer signings – goalkeeper Joe Hart, right back Pablo Zabaleta, winger Marko Arnautovic and former United striker Javier Hernandez – but was overwhelmed. It was the first of three away games to start the season due to its London Stadium hosting the world athletics championship.
“They were much better than us in every department,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said. “Better without the ball and with the ball. They have that individual quality.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80