Soccer-James hits ground running, United not yet up to speed
By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Manchester United's record in the transfer market in recent seasons has been more miss than hit with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez, Memphis Depay and Fred all failing to spark for the Old Trafford club.
United host Leicester City on Saturday aiming to kick-start their season, having managed only one win from their opening four Premier League games.
A haul of five points, seven fewer than leaders and arch-rvials Liverpool, might ordinarily have the fans grumbling already but in James they finally have a player capable of quickening the pulse with his searing pace and trickery.
Since joining from Championship club Swansea for a reported 15 million pounds ($18.49 million), James has netted three times in the league, including on his debut in the 4-0 hammering of Chelsea. He also scored superb goals in the 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace and in the 1-1 draw with Southampton.
He was on target again for Wales against Belarus during the international break and Giggs, his national team manager, is effusive in his praise for the 21-year-old who is already looking like one of the best signings in the transfer window.
"He's one of those players, you know what he's going to do, but you can't stop it," Giggs said this week, referring to James' incredible dribbling speed and ability to cut in from the left, where he often plays despite being right-sided, and hit the target.
"Like any young winger, there can be that improvement in the final ball and scoring more goals, but he's doing that."
James can become only the second United player to score in his first three league games at Old Trafford after current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 1996.
But while he has hit the ground running, United are not yet up to speed and the optimism engendered by the Chelsea win has been replaced by the cold reality that United are still way behind champions Manchester City and Liverpool.
Leicester, on the other hand, have started the season impressively and sit third after two wins and two draws with striker Jamie Vardy looking back to his best.
Saturday's clash will be an acid test for both clubs.
After a two-week hiatus for internationals, Liverpool get the programme up and running on Saturday as they host Newcastle United looking to continue their 100% start and claim a club record-extending 14th straight top-flight win.
Manchester City, who are two points behind, face promoted Norwich City in Saturday's late kickoff.
Tottenham Hotspur, who like United have stuttered so far, host fourth-placed Crystal Palace, while Frank Lampard's Chelsea, also on five points, travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers who are still seeking their first league win of the season.
Arsenal play at Watford on Sunday with the hosts welcoming back Quique Sanchez Flores for a second stint as manager after they parted company with Javi Gracia last week.
($1 = 0.8112 pounds) (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)