By James Kinsella

Manchester United have had a rollercoaster start to the season, the highs of four wins on the bounce followed by the lows of three defeats in a week.

Jose Mourinho’s men recovered with back-to-back wins in the Premier League and Europa League then a disappointing result, but arguably their best performance, against Stoke City leading into this international break.

Who have been their key men so far? Who have been their best performers?

Eric Bailly

Eric Bailly had made only 40 top-flight appearances before United splashed out a reported £30 million to secure his services in the summer.

The Old Trafford faithful though have been impressed with his strong performances and are already convinced that he can be a mainstay of United’s defence for a long time to come.

Bailly still has a lot to learn, including the language, and is still very raw – sometimes too keen to nick a ball that isn’t there to be won.

However, the Ivory Coast international has played every minute for Mourinho in the Premier League and has the most interceptions and clearances in the team along with an impressive passing accuracy of 88.9 per cent.

Bailly will be hoping he can continue his impressive form and build a successful pairing at centre-back, likely to be with Chris Smalling.

Antonio Valencia

Antonio Valencia was a fan favourite at United in his first few years after joining the club in 2009 but has struggled for form in the last couple of seasons.

The Ecuadorian has clearly impressed the new boss though and has started every Premier League game so far at right-back.

Valencia has made more tackles than any other Manchester United player and only Wayne Rooney has put in more crosses as the South American regularly supports the attack.

His crossing has been an area that has drawn criticism in recent years but has been better this season and his consistent ability to get in promising attacking positions is more impressive considering the rotation in the team in the position directly in front of him.

Mourinho probably doesn’t see Valencia as the long-term solution at right-back, and is repeatedly linked with transfers in that position, but the Red Devils will be happy with his displays so far and will hope he can continue to deliver at this level.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of only three Manchester United players to have played every minute in the Premier League this year; Bailly and David De Gea the other two.

Many observers questioned the value in signing a 34-year-old on such a high wage, wondering whether he would be able to keep up with the pace in this country but the early signs are very promising.

Ibrahimovic has scored four goals in his seven games and has averaged 5.4 shots per outing, showing that he can get himself into scoring positions in this league.

The former Sweden international’s impressive physical prowess has allowed him to outmuscle many Premier League defenders and his link-up play has been cute and integral to most of the good football United have played this season.

Already a hero in the Stretford End, there are no longer many questions about his value and United fans are wondering why they didn’t try to sign him years ago – he seems a perfect fit for the Old Trafford outfit.


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