A few things to take away from United’s win today.
First the bad news.
Manchester United look a considerable distance away from a title-winning team in their current state. An over-reaction to a poor performance? Sacrilege? Isn’t winning ugly the sign of champions?
Maybe there’s some truth to some of the above, maybe there’s some truth to all of it; Nemanja Matic said afterwards that it was a ‘great game’ but that was a stretch, even if the slips and spills made it entertaining in one respect.
United need to raise their game considerably. You would hope this result, rather than the performance, inspires an upturn in form.
Out of sorts
It might be fair to attribute so many poor performances to the conditions, which were very difficult. To an extent it’s excusable. But when you see moments like Romelu Lukaku’s hesitation and almost reluctance to chase a loose ball (a ball he had a good chance of getting) then criticism is justified. Lukaku wasn’t brilliant, even if he showed fine awareness to flick on the ball for the goal. He still lacks that air of being convincing in goalscoring positions and someone of his prowess needs to develop into being a striker that defenders fear.
United’s issues were more or less all prominent again. Smalling and Jones do little to inspire confidence, Ander Herrera is in the sort of slump which not only justifies his non-selection when others are fit but might also put his position in the squad at risk. Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a bright minute in the second half but was otherwise very poor. None of these factors in isolation should be taken as damning conclusions but the point bears repeating ad infinitum; these are the critical weaknesses afflicting United which will frustrate their title hopes. City might well run away with the league and if they do then fair enough. Either way, for United to reach their potential, they need to address these issues.
Now the good news (kind of).
United’s high-intensity start and their perseverance to chase the result was to their credit and a good response to the criticism both internal and external after the Huddersfield result. If this is the club’s blip then Mourinho’s team are still keeping pace with the leaders. United (that Lukaku moment aside) at least had the sort of attitude they are going to need to go into these forthcoming big games.
To end on a positive note, then. Anthony Martial showed that clinical eye United desperately needed and once again raised the question about whether or not he should start instead of Rashford. The counter point to that is often why not start both of them? The answer lies in games like this. Martial posed a new problem for one of the best defences in the league and was fresh enough to punish them. On another day, Rashford will do the same. Either way, having one of them ready to come with a point to prove is a valuable asset for United and Mourinho needs to keep it ticking along for as long as he can afford to without losing one.