When the snow clears from Old Trafford, the Blue side of Manchester roars triumphantly as yet another derby victory is recorded by Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men were cautious in gaining the triumph despite a defensive error denying them the clean sheet via Rashford’s late goal in the first half.
Jose Mourinho’s lads were bettered by a side that was intent on securing the three points and certainly looked the part of potential champions in terms of superior possession and all-round creativity. The night could have ended much differently if not for the spectacular efforts of goalkeeper Ederson who ensured that Lukaku and Mata’s back-to-back shots wouldn’t notch a goal.
Here are some of the major flaws in the manner in which United performed in the 175th Manchester Derby:
1. Pogba’s Absence
The biggest worry for Mourinho going into the fixture was the absence of his best man from this season- Paul Pogba. Having been shown red against Arsenal last week, the talented Frenchman was disallowed from the derby and potentially up to two or three more matches as well as a result of sarcastic clapping.
This worked immensely in City’s favor as the Red Devils without Pogba seemed more or less toothless in front of goal. Lingard’s passionate runs couldn’t ape the attacking creativity of Pogba, while Herrera, regardless of the decent manner in which he helmed the midfield alongside Matic on Sunday night, couldn’t hold a candle to the usual antics of the dabber.
All in all, Pogba’s absence equated to a United that simply weren’t ruthless enough in attacking City and worst of all, barely managed to muster up the usual creative runs that their most expensive signing indulged in prolifically.
2. Martial and Rashford Don’t Work Together
Starting both Martial and Rashford seems to be the go-to solution for Jose Mourinho in solving the selection dilemma at hand. While the form shy nature of Henrikh Mkhitaryan didn’t leave the manager with many choices, deploying the two in the attacking wings didn’t work out so well against their rivals.
While Rashford seemed more at ease with being deployed where he was, as shown in his goal, Martial appeared sloppy. Occasional runs of brilliance and his trademark side penetration into the penalty box were treated to Old Trafford during the encounter, but all in all the duo failed to provide the kind of success that the Mancunian side usually enjoys when deploying the Frenchman as an impact substitute.
As a result, Mourinho succeeded in ensuring one of his most talented players spent the minutes at hand getting used to tactics that were redundant. With the games coming in the plenty in the weeks to follow, the Portuguese boss must indeed seek a better solution to this dilemma and work out a strategy that favors both the youngsters and the club.
3. Lukaku Goalless Yet Again
Another match goes by and United’s most important summer signing is left without a goal yet again. Against the top six teams, in particular, Lukaku has been particularly redundant and failed to make any impact whatsoever that his usual flurry of goals readily supplies.
The Belgian had a couple of important moments in the derby, the most noticeable of which was his strong attempt at goal in the dying minutes of the match which was strongly denied by Ederson. Apart from that, the 24-year-old was always either too slow or horribly out of position to make good of any of the balls that well timed runs tried in vain to gift to him. Attempts of his own were even rarer and one does begin to wonder about the attacking potency of the former Evertonian.
While much was made about the pressure to score being lifted off his shoulder with the recovery of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, nothing of the sort was visible as the Swede too didn’t get enough time to make a proper impact and all of his cameo appearances so far tell the depressingly similar tale of not being the same player that silenced critics last season.
Perhaps a full match’s worth of action is what he needs the most in order to make a direct impact. If that is the case, it is high time that Lukaku makes an important detour to the United bench and learns the valuable lesson of what happens when one delivers beneath their best for a side like United. And who knows, maybe that is precisely what is required to kickstart his goalscoring days yet again.
4. Formation Woes
Many expected Mourinho to continue on with a back three against City, a formation that has worked brilliantly for the side so far against big teams. With Pogba’s absence, it was an easy opportunity for the manager to continue on with his back line of Lindelof, Smalling and Rojo or perhaps even Blind. But all of that went to hell with Rojo’s injury that forced on a substitution.
Liberating their forward men and aptly deploying ace wingbacks Young and Valencia was key to much of their success leading up to the derby. But none of that was in sight and Mourinho will have to be intent on removing the blemishes that this confused formation poses.
A similar dilemma awaits him upfront with the sheer quality of no.10 potentials wasting away at the bench. Mourinho’s style is not classic United, but perhaps a return to the old days is precisely what the side requires.
After suffering their first loss of the season against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, City went into Old Trafford with murmurs of even their domestic invincibility going into shambles.
But that was simply not to be, as David Silva first-half goal proved Guardiola’s choice to rest the injured forward to be a wise one. Otamendi’s winner in the second half was more vindication of how disciplined his side could be should the proper chance be granted.
The night also ended United’s brilliant run of games unbeaten at Old Trafford, which incidentally began after a derby loss to City itself back in 2016.
With all of this, it seems more and more likely that the Sky Blues will take home the crown this season and might just do it without a detour into losing games. With United being their closest pursuer on the table, for a short while the players can breathe a sigh of relief and relish their performance.
However, the Premier League is notorious for its unpredictability and the Citizens will be wise in not bragging too hard about their strong lead. With the transfer window approaching, the giants have an opportune chance at doing pieces of business that will make a tangible difference in this seemingly Herculean pursuit.
Written by Naveen Kelvin
A writer trying to craft the poetry within football. Purpose in life is to Make Good Art.