A few points to take away from United’s tight win at Southampton, as well as highlights of the victory.
The Phil Jones Show
No doubting the man of the match; Phil Jones has recovered from that Stoke City mistake to put in a couple of near faultless displays. Today he was at his best and needed to be. With Victor Lindelof the likely player to come in if Jones is below par, then the Swede ought to look at the things Jones does well. On days like today when it all works well, he looks fearless and responsible with the ball. Okay, it doesn’t always come off, and you spend much of the time with your heart in your mouth, but credit where it is due today.
Lukaku scores the crucial goal
Likewise, Romelu Lukaku is a player who we have criticised on our pod and tactics show. Today he did need two bites of the cherry again but the important thing was that he scored. We have wondered if Lukaku is capable, as many suggested he would be, of converting those chances that Ibrahimovic didn’t last season. The type of goal scored here doesn’t give us a conclusive answer (and Zlatan didn’t play at Southampton last season) but, this was a game which was drawn last year and today United edged it. Will Lukaku be the difference in the title race? Maybe, maybe not. Will he be the difference between United being in a title race as opposed to competing for Cups after Christmas (ahem Liverpool, Arsenal)? It seems so.
“It’s not always an opera of high quality,” Mourinho said afterwards, and he had a point. This was easily United’s worst performance of the season and it came after a week where their general level of performance has come in for some surprisingly scathing criticism by some sections of the media who believe it isn’t enough to just laud City, they have to drag United down. Those critics will have a field day today but regardless of the scrappy nature of it, nobody can argue that United deserved the three points. They should have had an even more comfortable buffer after seeing an early penalty claim turned down.
It was around this time last year that United’s early form went off the tracks with a bit of a wobble. This United team looks a bit more resolute and even if they aren’t totally convincing before the international break, there shouldn’t be any cause for concern just yet. United are missing their best player and still picking up results.
Blunt up front
Curiously, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s form has been a bit hit and miss, and that again seems odd considering the #numbers (and, considering all those four goal scorelines, you might wonder what this writer is going on about). Those #numbers do seem to be generously buffered by United’s late goal flurries and one wonders about his ability to provide the penetrating difference in tighter games. Today wasn’t his day and gives more weight to the theory that he shines only when opponents are tired and stretched. Juan Mata was similarly subdued.
Thankfully United had enough to get over the line and maybe we should be saying it’s a testament to a well-rounded squad that they found a goal from somewhere despite so many misfiring players, but doing so would be ignoring what should be a genuine concern, even if not a huge one at this moment in time.