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Manchester United’s first defeat of the season came at the hands of their bitter City rivals. Completely outclassed in the first half, many were wondering how many it might be, but the Reds rallied and in the end fought well until the final whistle.
A sloppy and stagnant start left Manchester City cruising 2 goals to the good thanks to Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s beautifully taken strike brought hope before half time but in the end Mourinho’s men just didn’t have enough to truly trouble a resolute Manchester City.
For all of the Blues’ good play, a route one goal and a deflection that fell kindly bring a tinge of disappointment. Nevertheless, the Etihad outfit were well worth the 3 points; here are 5 things we learned from a difficult afternoon against Pep Guardiola’s side.
1) Slow Start
For the first 15 minutes the home side struggled to get near the Noisy Neighbours. Encouraging counter-attacks were wasted with sloppy play prevalent throughout the side. By the time the Reds had found their feet in the game it was already too late; a 2 goal deficit against a City outfit who keep the ball for fun was always likely to be too much of an ask.
Tactically the side were muddled, and Jose Mourinho will have to shoulder some of the blame. The manager couldn’t legislate for a number of poor individual performances, but United looked anything but drilled or clear as to whether to press or whether to sit back and stay compact. In isolation it was a bad day at the office, but with many more big games to come it’s something the manager will need to address.
2) Struggling Stars
It was certainly an afternoon to forget for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard. Both looked off the pace and lacking match sharpness and it was a strange decision in that respect from the manager to start the pair.
The theory was sound; 2 pacy players, suited to counter attacking football and comfortable sitting inside defensively to pack the midfield. Unfortunately, both players were off the pace and out of the game.
Mkhitaryan in particular seems to be struggling to settle and the form of Anthony Martial is also a concern having been forced to start from the substitutes bench. The quality is certainly there, but if the Reds are to seriously challenge this season they will need their stars to find form quickly.
3) The Pogba Problem
Paul Pogba is a fantastic footballer, but he is an enigma on the pitch, a spirit that needs freedom to flourish. In the first half an hour against City the painfully immobile Marouane Fellaini was left hopelessly exposed in the midfield and United paid the price.
There is no question that Pogba is more suited to a 4-3-3, with licence to roam all over the pitch from box to box. Many are calling for Wayne Rooney to make way and Mourinho may have a big decision to make before too long. It’s pointless spending big money on top quality if they are not allowed to play their natural game.
The likes of Pogba, Martial and Rashford are the future of the club and Mourinho needs to start building a side around them.
4) Patience, Patience, Patience
Saturday’s clash called for patience, particularly in the second half, and the rest of the campaign calls for patience too.
After a strong opening quarter of an hour after the break, where the Reds moved the ball quickly and with purpose, pressing high and forcing Claudio Bravo to kick long, tactics reverted to route one football. It was the kind of football that previous managers would have been slaughtered for and the sort of thing City likely spent the week preparing for in training.
The Reds needed greater variety and more confidence in their ability to continue to patiently work the ball. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that this is still very early days for this side. New players and a new manager will always take time to fully settle and patience should be forthcoming. This is a manager who is a proven winner and in time he will get it right.
5) Title Contenders?
It was the first real test of United’s title credentials and one that certainly brought perspective. In truth Mourinho’s men looked second best and the early promise of 3 straight wins has now been brought into context.
Of course, the Reds will improve and surely the best is yet to come, but Saturday perhaps showed why expectations should be tempered. Manchester United will be title contenders this season, they have enough quality to see off lesser opposition comfortably, but they are certainly not favourites for the Championship.