“Lukaku can beat Ronaldo’s scoring record in season one. It would be a big statement, personally for Romelu and the team as well. It would mean a lot and obviously mean they are in the race for the title. We are just in October and a lot can happen until the end but he can carry on.”
With seven goals from his opening seven league games the towering Belgium is already well on his way to reaching that magic target but it’s not only the in-form striker who is scoring for fun this term at Old Trafford: Mourinho’s men are running riot with an average of three per game and eight more than at this stage last year.
“I’m not surprised to see a more attacking Manchester United side because I was privileged to follow the team during their pre-season US tour. From day one in the training sessions and in the first game you could see the change in attitude when in transition. There was clearly a desire to go forward and spend less time in possession. So it’s only natural that the production of football is more entertaining. It is a surprise though the amount they are scoring because the Premier League is a tough league so I’m delighted to see that.”
“Rashford’s impact is not far off Wayne’s"
A significant factor in United’s new-found potency has been the continued rise and rise of their teenage superstar Marcus Rashford. Having witnessed first-hand the phenomenal impact made by a young Wayne Rooney in the mid-2000s does the former French international believe comparisons can be made?
“Rashford’s impact is not far off Wayne’s. I think in terms of maturity Wayne was a little more advanced but quality wise and in his mentality and the desire to work hard while staying humble, Marcus is the same.”
“I love the fact that he’s taking free-kicks. That means a lot. He is surrounded by more experienced, technical players but he’s stepping in which shows that behind closed doors he’s working on them and has the respect from everyone from the manager down in his ability. At 20 years old to do that is a big testament to his character”.
"United have a chance this year to win the Premier League"
Speaking of character Manchester United are going to have to dig into their reserves – both figuratively and literally – in the months ahead following the shock news that Paul Pogba is expected to be out of action for some considerable time. Silvestre however points to a beefed-up squad that is now strong enough to cope with adversity.
“It’s a big blow. On the back of a decent season last year there was so much expectation for Paul to have a full, strong season. It will have an effect on the squad and results because he’s the best number 8 at the club. Now they have to rotate Fellaini, Mata, Matic, Carrick and Herrera and that’s why United have a chance this year to win the Premier League. The depth is there and that’s why it was so important to sign Matic this summer”.
The summer swoop for the Serbian midfielder has taken on even greater value this past week with Marouane Fellaini joining the treatment room queue after suffering ligament damage while on international duty. Was the supporters’ despondent reaction to the news proof that he has now won over the Stretford End faithful?
“We’ve heard many times that Marouane is not a Manchester United player but what is a Manchester United player? It’s one that works hard and never gives up and that’s what he does. He’s proven his doubters wrong because he is committed and had an impact. He is showing his passion and that’s what the fans recognise. The fans aren’t stupid, they see that the guy doesn’t give up and all credit to him.”
“If I was a Liverpool fan I’d be more worried about strikers facing their defence than United"
If United’s attack is firing on all cylinders and their midfield is coping with key absences their defence is also deserving of plaudits having conceded a miserly two goals so far in 2017/18. Silvestre is quick to praise but readily admits they have not yet been properly tested, a situation that will surely change this weekend as they face a Liverpool forward line that is becoming known in some quarters as the ‘Fab Four’. Then again, perhaps not.
“They are good players but hardly world class yet. Over the course of the ninety minutes you would expect them to make some chances because they are talented but there is not one goal-machine from Salah, Firmino, Mane or Coutinho. They are missing that clinical player because at the end of the day it is this one you have to be worried about, the one you expect to finish 20-25 times a season. Liverpool doesn’t have one yet. United are going to be tested but I think they can control these guys.”
“If I was a Liverpool fan I’d be more worried about strikers facing their defence than United. Especially Lukaku and Rashford. The problem with Liverpool is when they lose possession they do not protect the back four so they are exposed to one- v-ones on many occasions. That’s because they expend so much energy going forward as a unit.”
This weekend’s ‘M62 derby’ is one of the most frenetic and enthralling fixtures in world football, a local dust-up that never fails to keep even neutrals on the edge of their seats for ninety intense minutes. Having experienced the unique occasion at close quarters several times over during his nine years at United how does Silvestre look back on those intimidating visits to Anfield?
“You feel like you’re going to hell. You are not welcome and you can feel the hate for sure. It’s a hostile environment and it’s a good occasion to see how you react in adversity. It’s the best place to win games.”
Mikael Silvestre’s quickfire questions
Score prediction for Liverpool v Manchester United 2-2.
Who will win the Premier League? United.
Who will win the Champions League? Madrid can’t do it again. Barcelona.