There was a time when Jose Mourinho’s perfect win seemed to be 2-0, professional and efficient but not flashy or flamboyant. Now his horizons have expanded. For the sixth time in 10 games, Manchester United scored four times. They are the hard-nosed entertainers. It sounds a paradox. It isn’t.
Marouane Fellaini has become the unlikely embodiment of a Mourinho player. Physical, selfless and effective, the Belgian does not always please the purists but he has been especially productive and his first double as a United player took his tally to four goals this season. United have been prolific with Mourinho’s – and Fellaini’s – brand of pragmatism this season.
Romelu Lukaku is a major reason why but, as Crystal Palace can testify, other supersized Belgians can be equally effective. Lukaku took 85 minutes to take his tally to 11 goals in 10 United appearances, but by then Fellaini had already proved a no-frills destroyer, two finishes from inside the six-yard box cementing his transformation from scapegoat to crowd favourite.
“I always trusted Marouane since day one,” Mourinho said. “I think only a strong character could resist the difficulties here because he had some difficult times when people didn’t recognise his qualities.
"He is a fighter, a guy with lots of pride and I am really pleased I helped him reach this level and change the perception the fans have.”
The beaten manager, Roy Hodgson, added: “Maybe as long as people like David Moyes and Mourinho say he is a great player that is enough for him.”
Yet it probably was not: the way Fellaini pointed to the back of his shirt after scoring highlighted how he wanted belated appreciation.
He ensured United were untroubled on a day that underlined their strength in depth. Potent as Lukaku has been, he has a sizeable supporting cast. Juan Mata became United’s ninth scorer already this season.
If Mourinho was vindicated in his newfound preference for Fellaini over Ander Herrera, another of his judgment calls paid off. He continues to rotate between Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. It is proving a profitable policy, spurring each to excellence.
The Englishman came in for the Frenchman and set up two goals, the first within three minutes. He tricked Joel Ward, picked out Mata and the Spaniard converted the low cutback.
Palace are terrible starters, and not just because they have made the worst goalless beginning to a season in top-flight history. They have been a goal down in three minutes twice, behind after a further three once more.
United are their opposites. “We started well and we finished well,” Mourinho said. The late-goal specialists added another when Martial, in a bright cameo, set up Lukaku.
It was United’s 32nd goal in 10 games. The idea Mourinho is defensive is looking increasingly outdated. Both full-backs are converted wingers. Ashley Young’s grounding further forward proved useful as, for a second successive Saturday, he set up a goal. His curling cross was volleyed in by Fellaini.
Three of the few who excelled for Louis van Gaal are prospering under Mourinho’s tutelage. Another of that select group, Rashford, hit the post and then whipped in a free kick. Fellaini met it with a close-range header.
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Meanwhile Palace’s 139-day league drought has been extended. David de Gea parried Bakary Sako’s crisp effort but they were toothless, as well as pointless, goalless and luckless.
They were without Scott Dann, James Tomkins and the ineligible Timothy Fosu-Mensah in defence and Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha in attack. The makeshift nature of their forward line explained why Mourinho was willing to rest his best defender, Eric Bailly.
The Palace fans sought solace in humour. “We score when we want,” they chorused. A more realistic appraisal came from Hodgson, admitting: “We have to accept we are a boxer we are fighting in a weight class we are not able to handle at this minute and we took blows to the chin and got knocked down.”
Once again, Fellaini supplied a knockout blow.