A few points to take from United’s win over Chelsea.
In some ways it’s obvious, in others, not so. There is still an argument that says a number of this Manchester United team will not be here next season so if that’s the case, how can it be seen as such a landmark? Well, simply put, this will be the first time that Jose Mourinho has experienced the jubilation as one with the United support; the product of the intensity, quality and concentration on display from their team.
It is true that Chelsea are one of the few teams who have come to Old Trafford looking for all three points as opposed to only one, but it’s also true that Mourinho perhaps hasn’t always been aware of United’s own need to raise their game against opponents who aren’t interested in winning. There is a crucial but significant difference and it will surely have been noted by the manager today. He now knows what to demand of his team in order to have the best chance of winning home games.
That’s not to say that everything will be rosy. With his favoured team back in on Thursday it may well be another nervy night but it will be an experience not lost on the boss.
A watershed victory for the Premier League? Well, as far as United go, again, this season may be too soon. It may not even be enough to cajole them to qualify for the Champions League via the league. It should however be enough to say they are more than good enough to compete with Chelsea. Will it be enough for Spurs to put up a serious challenge in the games that remain? Chelsea should have enough to win the league, but there is now a question mark where there wasn’t before.
A watershed afternoon for Marcus Rashford? A first half goal was matched by a phenomenal second half performance, an example of how to lead the line in a big game by a striker demonstrating experience beyond his years. It may have been a ninety minute spell which influenced the decision of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to stay or leave Old Trafford.
Plan B just isn’t – normally – very good
There was a lot of predictable pre-game criticism as soon as the line-up was announced. The most mentioned comment on social media went along the lines of Jose Mourinho throwing away the league, taking it for granted, and how that was unforgivable. Another theory may be offered by the admission of both manager and player when it comes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s omission. The player was tired, and with a small squad, rotation is necessary. It just so happens that when that rotation occurs, it doesn’t look great on paper because United’s squad isn’t exactly the home of talent it has been in the past. Nobody could accuse Jose Mourinho of picking a team with no interest of winning, and if they did, they were wrong to do so. You may not be able to count on this team to win every game but this was arguably the most impressive performance of the season.
And on that theme, it was, for long parts of the first half at least, classic Jose Mourinho. It was reminiscent of the game where he took Chelsea to Anfield in 2014 to play against a Liverpool team who thought all they had to do was turn up to win. Then, as today, he picked a supposedly weakened side which upset the apple cart.
Pogba as an influencer
Much of the pre-game conversation focussed on the Pogba/Kante comparisons. It’s unfair for a couple of reasons, primarily because different things are expected. This is not to do a disservice to the Chelsea man but Pogba is expected to do all of that work and the work he has done this season, in terms of creation of chances and scoring goals. The problem is that the perception of Pogba’s success therefore relies on the capability of his team-mates to finish the chances he creates. Nonetheless the criticism of him failing to dominate big games has not been unfair. Today there was more in the right direction of that; his passing and positioning was considered, disciplined and professional. His first half tracking and tackle on Diego Costa was immediate gif’ed on social media.
2006 United comparisons
For Ronaldo and Rooney read Martial and Rashford; for Ruud van Nistelrooy, read Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Is there justification in the suggestion that the absence of the Swedish player will make for a fluid frontline for United? It’s too early to say, but that is due to the inconsistency of the current young pair and so it is too premature to say—even with Rashford’s exceptional perfromance— they can replicate what the other two did 11 years ago. However, there is more than enough substance to support the argument that Ibrahimovic’s lack of mobility is restrictive.
Rojo is a liability
The plan to wind Diego Costa up worked a treat in the first half but Marcos Rojo remains a liability himself. A first half slap on the Chelsea forward could easily have seen the United player see red, a needless risk at a time his team really could have done without it. Aside from this, Rojo did have a good game. However, this would be a redundant point if he had been shown a red card as he could-and arguably should-have done.
His goal was obviously the stand out moment in the first half but it was notable to see the youngster given the responsibility on free kicks and corners. Perhaps Mourinho has noticed that Rashford is arguably the best crosser of a ball at the club – given the lack of quality to oppose that theory elsewhere, it would be hard to miss it. In Rashford and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson United really do have two players who have excellent delivery and while the former remains a staple of the first team line up, it really does make sense to have him on set pieces.
Of course, this wasn’t the major plus from Rashford’s inclusion (see above), but as a subplot it is not without its significance.