By Matthew Galea
Jose Mourinho has endured his first competitive loss as Manchester United manager, and it probably could not have come against a worst opponent for him than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
Truthfully, perhaps we all knew that there was always a good chance that United’s good start to the season could be exposed as something of a false start after wins against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City with Manchester City set to provide a completely different test with the visitors prevailing 2-1.
Mourinho took a gamble with his starting line-up and came to lament the performances of some of the players he picked.
The Portuguese boss would have learned plenty from the match, but here are the five lessons we took from the latest Manchester derby.
LACK OF SHARPNESS ALARMING
Manchester City might as well have bought their own ball to Old Trafford on Saturday.
For the first 30 minutes, United could barely get a touch and Kevin De Bruyne’s opener was the least that City deserved from their opening play.
Not having a lot of the ball is perhaps to be expected when playing any team managed by Guardiola, but United’s failure to make crucial interceptions and make possession count when they did have the ball was completely at odds with past performances this season.
Under Mourinho, United have not particularly dominated possession statistics in any of the games they have played this season, but they have more than made up for that with their ability to win the ball in crucial parts of the pitch and use it effectively, but neither of those traits were on display.
To be fair, United have not faced a side that recycles possession and moves the ball as quickly as City did on Saturday and perhaps the week off for internationals did not help, but Mourinho’s men were slow to react as individuals and collectively were too often thrown out of shape by City’s movement of the ball.
De Bruyne’s goal was a brutal example of that all over the pitch. United’s forwards were guilty of ball-chasing as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard chased down the ball on City’s right flank, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan was caught ball watching on the other side, meaning as soon as Bacary Sagna could ping the ball back to Claudio Bravo, he could pass to Aleksandar Kolarov who had the freedom of the right flank to play a long ball into Kelechi Iheanacho.
Eric Bailly was late to the contest – failing to even jump with Ihenacho and pressure the flick-on header – and easily beaten in the air, and Daley Blind’s lack of pace and awareness was exposed – though he was not helped by the midfield’s failure to track De Bruyne’s run from deep – and from there it was too easy for the Belgian.
It was a good goal from a City perspective, but it brutally exposed how slow United were to react to everything their opponents did.
MOURINHO NOT FAULTLESS
Mourinho expressed his disappointment with the players he picked, but ultimately he is the manager, he picked them and thus he must share some of the responsibility.
A Manchester derby was a peculiar time to drop Anthony Martial and Juan Mata for Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan respectively and the gamble failed horrifically.
Neither player could get involved in the game and while they were not helped by the fact that United had barely any of the ball in the opening 30 minutes, neither put in a shift defensively.
On both flanks, United’s full-backs were constantly overloaded as Sagna and Kolarov were given free rein to overlap their wingers with neither Lingard nor Mkhitaryan doing their bit and if Mourinho’s thought was that the duo would make up for that in an attacking sense he was hugely mistaken.
It is hard to remember a good pass either made and it was no surprise to see them both dragged at half-time. Credit where it’s due to Mourinho there. He saw it was not working and did not wait longer than necessary to change it.
RASHFORD IMPRESSES AGAIN
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has said it is only a matter of time before Marcus Rashford. “takes over everything” at Manchester United after the teen sensation made an instant impact after coming on at half-time.
Within seconds of coming on, taking up Lingard’s position on the left flank, Rashford had City defenders chasing shadows and while he could not get the goal or assist his play deserved, the instant improvement with him in the side was unmistakable and again stated his claim for more starts in the coming weeks.
Anthony Martial was similarly effective when he came on late in the second half, begging the question why Mourinho failed to start arguably his two quickest and best dribblers against a City defence that looked shaky when placed under pressure.
POGBA TOO DEEP?
Paul Pogba did not have the best game of his career, but he still looked one of United’s more effective ball carriers on the day.
Defensively, he was nowhere near good enough and could easily be accused of laziness, but on the ball he glided past opponents with ease and on more than one occasion City had to resort to cynical fouling to stop the Frenchman.
The midfielder almost scored in the opening exchanges when he received the ball in an advanced position as well, which begs the question – how long will Mourinho hold him back as a number six for?
Perhaps, the solution is…
ROONEY OUT WIDE
Having failed to effect the game in a positive manner as a number 10 – barring the free-kick which led to Ibrahimovic’s consolation goal – Wayne Rooney looked much more comfortable and effective in a wider position.
With more space to operate in, Rooney was able to play a number of dangerous balls into the penalty area and had a more positive influence on proceedings.
Similarly, it was from a wide position in United’s previous game against Hull that Rooney made the decisive impact.
If Pogba needs to be pushed higher up the park to have the best possible impact in games for United and Mourinho feels Rooney still has something to offer, then perhaps the right wing is where he can continue to operate.