Sheffield United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
SO FAR, so good for the defending champions. A second victory without a goal conceded, and achieved in manner which suggests that the championship pennant presented at the start of this match will not easily be hauled down.
Manchester United have been accused of buying success, and the two goals scored by Roy Keane, their pounds 3.75m close-season signing from Nottingham Forest, will support that view. But you cannot buy the confidence with which United played last night for any money. Only winning the title again after so long can give you that.
The Blades beat them twice last season and there were fleeting moments when they packed the midfield at the start that they again threatened to spoil the homecoming to a new-look Old Trafford. But once Keane broke the deadlock after 17 minutes, stabbing the ball inside Alan Kelly's left- hand post from 12 yards after Ryan Giggs had flicked on Paul Ince's overhead kick, there was no danger of that.
Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis had the freedom of the flanks as the visitors funnelled back into the box to resist the onslaught as best they could. Bryan Robson and Giggs, whose shooting did not match his mercurial running, should have consolidated the lead before Keane again showed them how it was done a minute before half-time.
Mark Hughes cleverly controlled a free-kick on the edge of the area and, with his back to goal, played the ball into the path of Keane, who claimed his second from the same spot as his first. The Republic of Ireland internaional should have completed his hat-trick midway through the second half when he burst clear gain, but instead found his name in the referee's book for pushing full-back Tom Cowan in frustration.
Instead, it was Hughes who made sure the scoreline properly reflected United's superiority turning in Giggs's cross on the far post five minutes from the end. More would have been gilding the lily, although Dennis Irwin hit the post with a free-kick and Giggs rattled the bar on the stroke of time.
The Blades scarcely made an incision, their best move coming early on from young Andy Scott, filling the boots of the departed Brian Deane with flair as he raced clear to be denied by a last-ditch tackle from Gary Pallister. But their competitive approach was rewarded only with five bookings.
Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said: 'We played some excellent football and we were unlucky not to add to our score. Keane showed why we paid so much for him. His stamina is tremendous.' Ferguson was able to rest Eric Cantona, who is still nursing a slight hamstring strain, though he is expected to play for France on Sunday.
Manchester United (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Parker, Pallister, Bruce, Irwin; Keane, Ince, Robson (McClair, 70); Kanchelskis, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), Sharp.
Sheffield United (4-5-1): Kelly; Ward, Tuttle, Pemberton, Cowan; Bradshaw, Rogers (Gage, 65), Falconer, Hoyland (Cork, 58), Whitehouse; Scott. Substitute not used: Tracey (gk).
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).