Points to take away from United’s win in their last Champions League group game.
Given Manchester United’s recent (see, last ten years) record at dealing with ostensibly easy Champions League groups, this sort of performance at this level shouldn’t be taken for granted. On the night they recovered from going a goal behind; their second half performance was professional. In the group, bar that late mess up against Basel, United dealt impressively with a challenge they were nonetheless expected to overcome.
With that disastrous group campaign under Louis van Gaal being the one Champions League foray in the last 3 years, thus the only one since the huge evolution of the squad that last won the Premier League (reminder, only De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Carrick and Young remain). How United will cope with their next round opponents? Well, as unpredictable as they can be, one has to fancy their chances against most teams if they have all of their players available.
Nobody is saying United will win the Champions League but stranger, Liverpool and Chelsea-shaped things, have happened in the past.
The big news of the night was Luke Shaw’s recall, and this time from the start. The first half was eventful for Shaw; he could have given a penalty away, could have had a goal and could have had an assist. His all-around play was impressive and gave credence to the call for him to get more time. And then on the stroke of half-time his positioning was partly responsible for United conceding an opener. As Nipun tweeted twenty five minutes into the first half as Shaw was impressing —
This performance from Luke Shaw has been fantastic. But, none of it will matter if he makes one poor decision defensively. That has always been the Q about him from Mourinho’s perspective; pressing/positioning. #MUNvCSKA #UCL
— Nipun Chopra, PhD (@NipunChopra7) December 5, 2017
— the point many will take from this is that Jose may demonstrate trademark impatience and that maybe it would be harsh to throw Shaw back into the doldrums again. Take it another way – if only it wasn’t for the mistake, then Jose might give him another chance. Shaw’s second half was assured enough. He pulled up with cramp, as should have been expected, but was aware enough to cover the back post for an injury time free kick.
No safety in numbers
Shaw was culpable for allowing so much space for the player he was supposed to be tracking. Smalling was culpable for keeping him onside. The first goal shouldn’t have been given because Dzagoev was clearly offside but let’s just jog back to Saturday a minute and remind ourselves of the statistics for shots conceded. We are reminded that David De Gea wasn’t particularly well protected.
This system of 3 centre halves worked wonders in the previous two away games but didn’t seem cohesive at home. If Jose Mourinho is banking on this formation based on defensive solidity for the derby, he may want to have a rethink. At present, playing more defenders who have errors in them simply presents more opportunities for defenders to make errors.
Ander Herrera was not particularly brilliant in this audition for a first team role on Sunday, should Marouane Fellaini not make it.
But here’s the good news. In some ways it doesn’t really matter. Mourinho’s problem with Pogba out of the side is how to replace what he brought to the team. On the face of it he has that problem against City. But he also has a different problem, one which Ander Herrera’s form doesn’t really influence, in some respects. That problem is Kevin De Bruyne, and one immediately looks back to Chelsea from last season and Eden Hazard. Maybe the best thing all around could be to give Herrera the same job. Who knows, it may give the Spaniard the boost in confidence he seems to need.
Lukaku’s timely goal
It came at the nice time and was the sort of unorthodox finish Lukaku normally does well with. You want to believe that this will be the prompt he needs to fire him up for Sunday but honestly? We have to agree with Mourinho to an extent. His all-around play was generally very good against Arsenal and so long as his performance contributes to a win against City, then goals are really just a bonus.