1) Best performance of the season
Simply put, Saturday was the best United played this season. Leicester might not be making much of a title defense, but on the back of a difficult couple of weeks, United’s performance was Fergie-esque (dare I say).
Without looking up, but I would imagine it has been a very long time since United put 4 goals past a team in the first half for quite some time. To do it against the champions is another thing altogether, and it could have been more than 4. Our new signings – Bailly, Pogba and Monsieur Ibrahimovic were each fantastic in what is now (for the first time in a number of years) a very solid spine.
For Mourinho it was a vital performance to put to bed some of the criticism levelled at him on the back of those bad results. He’ll likely take special pleasure about recovering his ego somewhat against a certain Claudio Ranieri. 2 and 0 to Jose this season.
2) No Rooney, no problem
Wayne Rooney is the sole topic of conversation stemming from the world’s biggest football club at present. Any fool and his dog could tell you that Rooney has been below his usual standards the past year or two. His demotion to the bench was coming and was just, given the other options we have available.
Juan Mata occupied Rooney’s usual role on Saturday to very good effect. I’d personally like to see Henrikh Mkhitaryan given a go in the role once he’s back fit. Ultimately what that would lead to is Rooney being 3rd choice for the number 10 position. Should Mata/Mkhi underperform that might change.
What we lose with Rooney on the bench is a presence and a leader (albeit his leadership skills seem to consist mostly of tearing the ear off a referee)…but still! What we gain without Rooney (as showcased on Saturday) is more fluidity and a quicker speed of attack. Rooney has lost his pace and is losing his touch. Mata, allied by pacy wide men in Rashford and Lingard, was a key contributor to our best attacking moves on Saturday. I hate to say it but Rooney would have simply got in the way of most of the said moves. Rooney on the bench for the foreseeable future, I think.
3) United’s corners – An actual threat
Not to enhance the Rooney bashing, but it seems a long while since we’ve scored a couple of goals in a game from a corner. I can’t even remember the last time we scored one in a game from a corner to be perfectly honest (again without looking up). What we have been used to is these looping balls from Rooney that allow a defence to set up/get back in order and ultimately can clear the ball to safety. Blind’s deliveries on Saturday, by contrast, were whipped in with pace, which allowed our target men to get an edge on their respective markers and take full advantage.
For the first time in a long time we have a serious height advantage on 99% of teams we face, therefore corners are a real opportunity. With Blind’s deliveries we have the initial weapon to make the most damage.
Blind played on Saturday due to Luke Shaw’s absence, but frankly I’d find a place for him in the United side every week – be it at centre back, left back or centre midfield. His forward passing is crucial to our attacks and his deliveries from set pieces, as already said, are generally on the money.
4) Herrera is bloody brilliant
Paul Pogba might have received the Man of the Match award from frothy mouthed Sky Sports reps on Saturday but Herrera, for me, was the crucial cog in the win/manner of victory. In his attacking and defensive play he was seriously impressive.
We benefited from playing against a 2 man midfield, which is a rarity in the modern game. However, we took full advantage. Herrera was key in terms of linking play and contributing to our quick counter-attacks with a number of incisive forward balls. It’s now Herrera’s third season at the club and he’s becoming part of the furniture. Having played under the limiting Van Gaal the past two seasons, Herrera has thrived being afforded more freedom under Mourinho.
Like Pogba, I believe Herrera is best in a 3 man midfield, but we can afford playing a 2 against a 2. Against the likes of City, Chelsea and Arsenal I think we’d need a number 6 to compliment the two, which would mean dropping your number 10. Michael Carrick could do the 6 job, with Blind as a potential foil, but ultimately it’s a position we probably need to invest in down the line.
5) Tender confidence
A quick scan of the scoreline (and my above waffle) would suggest that Saturday was a straightforward victory, however for the first 20 minutes United were very nervy. It took a goal, from a corner, to settle us.
After the first goal we played some fantastic stuff but it was evident that without it we were a different side. It’s understandable to have tender confidence on the back of the past couple of weeks, but I believe it’s the past 3 years that is the underlying issue. We’ve had three seasons under two poor managers and it has seemed to have had lasting effects on the players. Mourino’s main job is to get the players to psychologically wash the crap out of their heads.
New signings Bailly, Pogba and Ibra are big characters as well as big players, but we probably need more, particularly with Rooney taking a lesser role. But small steps, we missed out on the Champions League last season after all – a top 4 finish this season would signal positive progress.