Well, technically, more like Sunday morning’s leftovers, but better late than never, here are a few points to take away from Manchester United’s win at Swansea City, and the highlights from the 4-0 victory.
Patience is a virtue
Unfortunately for Manchester United supporters the recent past has been littered with false dawns, and so, when it appears a game may not be going their way, supporters get uneasy and anxious. Social media is not kind to those who get caught up in the pattern of the game and forget that football matches are ninety minutes long; some become drawn into making unnecessary knee-jerk reactions based on short periods of play. This is a disease of the modern football fan, it’s not an issue the exclusive ownership of Manchester United supporters.
So it seems like folly to look back on a 4-0 win which was launched into life by a goal on the stroke of half-time and suggest that some United fans were getting a little bit restless by their team’s inability to score a goal but perhaps they could be forgiven considering they’ve seen that story forty or fifty times in recent years.
Arsenal and Liverpool fans are used to consoling themselves with the idea of a ‘moral’ victory; so that even in defeat, if there is a positive statistic to come out of it or a dodgy refereeing decision that went against their team, they are almost comforted by a buffer which prevents them from experiencing the true pain of defeat, because they can pretend amongst themselves that they were the better team and they have suffered an injustice. For Manchester United supporters there is no such filter; even after winning this one 4-0, BBC’s Match of the Day’s first point of analysis was to criticise Daley Blind for not offering width in a situation where Swansea’s defence was narrow (a point which failed to notice the fact that Blind has never been a marauding left-back, and, if he had found himself in a wide position, then Swansea’s defence wouldn’t have been so narrow!). They have to take the criticism in victory and damning criticism in defeat.
With the game approaching half-time and United failing to penetrate in the same way they did last week, some were concerned. After all, how many times did they draw 1-1 last season? Here’s a hard truth. United won’t win every game 4-0; they will lose some games this season, and they will more than likely pick up a few 1-1’s along the way. What is a matter for observation though is whether or not the flaws in the United team which made such results an inevitability last season have been addressed and you would have to say that on the evidence of the first two games, it seems so.
Jose Mourinho might have picked Ander Herrera from the start and gone for a 3 man midfield and no-one would have batted an eyelid. He might have brought Herrera or Fellaini on earlier when the score was 1-0, but he didn’t, waiting instead to see if his side might get a second. That lack of midfield buffer ended up making the game feel more open but United were always in control and it was ironically after the changes, when Swansea were forced to take more of a chance, that Mourinho’s team punished them with the sort of devastating clinical finishing that was not present last season. Patience was a virtue; this was the blueprint for the perfect away performance.
He’s the best, around
Paul Pogba was involved in first half controversy but anyone seriously thinking he should have been sent off has a not-so-well-concealed hatred of all things United; you send him off for those two challenges, then every game will finish with both teams at least down to ten. And to boil the urine of those people even further, Pogba’s influence was then all over this football match. It was his cross which won the corner on half-time, his header which should have gone in but was eventually converted by Bailly. And it was his physical driving force which stretched Swansea repeatedly. His goal was class. Paul Pogba is the best midfielder in the Premier League and is beginning to flourish.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s two assist salvo went under the radar last week; he was at it again yesterday, setting up two of the goals late on. The tricky Armenian is proving to be a vital cog in the machine – his debut season showed glimpses of his better form in Europe, and so far this season he is showing the benefit of having spent a year in England. The winger spoke about the unity of the squad afterwards and there is definitely a sense of that prevalent in the team’s performances.
Jones the defender
Eric Bailly scored his first goal for the club but it was Phil Jones, who, as last week, was arguably the better performer on the day. On the UIF podcast this week Dave Murphy reasoned that no matter the good Jones is capable of, a disaster or injury is never too far away. The optimistic voice may suggest that with his career on the line, perhaps Jones’ concentration levels have been refined to reflect the sort of form we saw from Chris Smalling temporarily after that Manchester City red card a few years back. If the worst that we get is that Jones’ next disaster, if inevitable it is, comes after a period of time that has allowed Victor Lindelof to become accustomed to life in England, then it feels as if it’s a risk worth taking. Then again, it depends on the cost of the risk.