Coming as it has in the same period as Manchester City’s glowing form, United’s comparative dip has not looked pretty. It doesn’t matter that the club were level with their own best ever Premier League start before kick off, they were up against rivals who were eight points clear.
There has been the temptation which most media outlets have given into where the credit has been heaped on City and most plaudits are even attempting to attribute this to management rather than the power of the chequebook. United’s issue seems similar to that of Arsenal’s in 2004. Back then, the ‘invincibles’ were beaten to the title the following season by a Chelsea team who accumulated five more points than the Gunners had done.
Anyone with common sense could see this was down to the spending power of a team who could splurge £200m as opposed to £25m over two years. Manchester City have spent £600m improving their last title winning team of 2014 and have not had to endure the same sort of regeneration issues faced by United. This is not an excuse; it’s a reason for why City are currently out on their own on a one horse race in a season where they should set records for points, wins and goals. It stands to reason that they will play good football while doing so.
Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge was played out against the backdrop of City’s dominant win here a few weeks ago. Expectations that United could do the same against last season’s champions were much too high but such was the scenario if they were to remain involved in some description of a title challenge.
Chelsea’s win was no disgrace but did illustrate some of United’s own issues. Hopefully the size of the gap in the league in the first week of November will refocus some of the attention on Manchester City’s lead. Is it, as the MEN suggested a few weeks ago, what is necessary for football? Is it, as the Telegraph suggested after City had poured seven goals past Stoke, a win for the purists? The answer, of course, is obvious, as it is being set up to be – City are already been touted as the best ever Premier League team, so the matter of ‘how’ it was won only matters if it is an answer which supports the narrative.
United were not at the races today for long periods, and Chelsea were not only worthy winners, they missed chances to make their result look more handsome. United’s familiar problems were exposed; more on that in a second. This result is not one of the worst ever experienced, but it looks worse than it is in the context in which it was achieved.
Unlike Guardiola, Jose Mourinho can claim an influence on much of Manchester United’s season, for better or worse. Mostly, earlier in the season, this was to the club’s benefit. The manager made the right decisions and United often killed teams off. Then there was the draw at Anfield. At half time against Chelsea Mourinho had a big call with the again ineffectual Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as it became clear that United were getting over-run. Deliberation was fatal. United left spaces which were much too inviting and the champions punished them with the opening goal. When the changes did come, it was too little, too late.
Without wanting to return to Manchester City again, there is a sentient point remaining. City’s win was so dominant that it seems stupid to point out a turning point but their opening goal from Kevin De Bruyne was that. It was also he who scored the goal at Chelsea to turn a dominant performance into a win. City have the resources where De Bruyne’s absence might not be so keenly felt as Paul Pogba’s has but it is still down to ifs and buts. United don’t need ifs and buts, because it is clear to see that the downward mark of performances came after his injury. It’s argued that United shouldn’t be so dependant on one player but this is what happens when you lose a world class player who has a style like no-one else.
These are the margins which separate the top teams but Manchester United and Jose Mourinho unfortunately find themselves hamstrung with the sort of issues which afflict football teams in normal circumstances. Only, for United, you could argue they are not normal. It is not normal that Smalling and Jones are playing in a team competing for the title and, sorry for bursting anyone’s bubble, it’s not normal that Ashley Young should be playing left back in such a team. Maybe they’d get away with Young as a one-off selection issue; maybe the same could be said for one of the others. This, however, is one squarely at the manager’s door. Persisting with those defenders may be understandable if they were second choice but they aren’t, they are squad players in there with a chance of playing every week, and the matter is compounded by the Lindelof saga.
Forget about Manchester City; Manchester United are not doing the best they could do. Make no mistake, our ‘party line’ as a website is that we support Jose Mourinho, we think he’s the right man for the job and we also feel he could be given more credit. It is, also, November, which means the squad we have is the one we have to deal with until January. It’s also a squad composed over three windows and as fantastic a defensive coach as Mourinho is reputed to be, it seems absurd that United are still moving forward with these defenders. Are we as fans missing the bigger picture? Is there something seen by Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho in Jones and Smalling that we don’t? Today, both were making nervy mistakes in the first ten minutes, which wasn’t inspiring, and neither were anywhere near Morata when he scored.
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