After a perfect start to the season, United fans had a reality check when Pep Guardiola’s City side got the 3 points in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. Here, the Red Thoughts team discuss what we have learned from that game.
Think about it as a written podcast, a fans’ forum, a place to debate and discuss. Feel free to join in the discussion in the comments below.
JIM: We learnt that setting up to play defensively against a team like City does not work. We should have gone out all guns blazing and attack them like they did us.
DAN: I don’t think we did learn a lot today. Yes, we got beaten, the manager has held his hands up to making mistakes in his lineup, trying to second guess what City were going to do. There were a few bad performances in the first half. The first goal was a joke – Mkhitaryan not pressing, Bailly and Blind caught napping, then we continued like rabbits in the headlights for the next 40 minutes. But we finished the half with two great chances and should have been level. The second half was, for a neutral especially, a great half of football, which had everything but a goal. I thought Pogba was poor, he never really got himself into the game and I think we are still waiting for him to turn up.
FAB: For 35 minutes, we were ghosts on the pitch with no clear ideas of how things should be done. We started really slowly and made errors that ruined the game for us. Yet after that, we started doing what we know best, putting pressure on the opponent, and what happened? We scored and had two clear chances in the last minutes of the first half. Our half time changes had an immediate impact on the game. Mourinho’s tactics were based on their weakest point: their goalie. The answer was to hit long balls and prevent De Bruyne and Silva from keeping the ball for long. It worked and City’s game seemed to fade away. That’s exactly what we should have done from the start.
HEMOR: You need to defend well against Pep because you can’t outplay him. Pep’s strength is possession football, Jose’s strength is in counter attack but Lingard and Mkhitaryan, who were supposed to execute the counter attack, let us down. Blind was also exposed in the first half, though he played well in the second half.
RICK: I know Fellaini has been good in the first few games but against City I honestly don’t know where he was meant to be. He was a man missing in action. In the second half he thought he was a striker. Regarding the counter attack, it definitely should have been Rashford on one wing and Martial on the other. I actually wouldn’t have started Mkhitaryan and Fellaini simply because they’ve only just come back from injury. However, Lingard is an average player who only plays very well from time to time.
DAN: The reason Fellaini was pushed up is that Mourinho wanted to get him and Pogba closer to Ibrahimovic. We went to a sort of 433 and a bit more direct in play. We had to take risks and aimed to get players higher up the pitch to stop them playing out.
HEMOR: Rick, Martial hasn’t been playing well this season so dropping him was a good idea, although I’d have started Rashford ahead of Lingard. And obviously you can’t have Mata as a winger in a counter attacking team so dropping him too was a good idea.
BETS: Mata should have played no. 10, I’m so tired of this sad plugging away with Rooney for 3 years. Enough already! He is probably our 3rd best no. 10 now.
RICK: Rooney ended up playing on the wing in the second half because he’s not good enough for the no. 10 role. I agree Mata should have started but only at no. 10. We needed quick counters on the wings and he wouldn’t have provided that.
DAN: Offensively Rooney was our best player – it seemed that if something was to happen it was going to be through him.
BETS: I just don’t see it Dan! In the first half Pogba was our best player offensively, in the second half it was Rashford. Rooney’s crossing and corners were dreadful and he did end up puffing and panting up the right wing.
REX: Changes made to the team hurt us rather than help us. Lingard and Mkhitaryan were awful, nothing to do with management there. I expected Mkhitaryan to be better than Mata on the wing for sure. Lingard was a 50-50 gamble because Martial was off form, but it didn’t work. Rashford should have started but that would have meant dropping one of the two experienced top men, Zlatan or Rooney. That wasn’t going to happen. And for all the stick he gets, if there was a goal coming, the only player that seemed to put in a decent cross or ball was Rooney. All in all, individual errors killed us in the first half an hour or so. They came from players who have been dependable before to get us out of a mess. In the second half we went head to head, both sides had chances but neither scored. That would have probably been the result if those individuals weren’t so poor in the first half. I’m sad about losing, but there was nothing wrong with the way we lost. We fought and fought but no luck.
FAB: You should stick with your best line up. Both wingers couldn’t deliver at all. City controlled the ball and our players didn’t even bother to fight for it. Our defence was constantly in trouble not clearing the ball when needed, leaving space for City to attack and when Silva and De Bruyne had the ball, they were dangerous.
COREY: Pep was always going to dominate possession that much is clear, Mourinho was always going to take the pragmatic approach and play counter-attacking football. The aim was to punish them the same way teams punished us all last season under LVG. I think the lineup was the correct one. Yes Lingard and Mkhitaryan were poor, and that decision backfired, but I could see the logic. Our players were still on the bus in the first half. There were a lot of poor performances in the first half. I think bringing on Rashford and Herrera didn’t change much tactically, however we played a lot better in the second half. We were less sloppy, we pressured as a team, and made fewer mistakes at the back.
The only issue I had today was with the Fellaini/Pogba pairing. Neither seemed to know how to handle De Bruyne. I think we clearly needed Carrick or Schneiderlin to start alongside Pogba and to take charge of the defensive responsibilities, as Herrera did when he came on in the second half and sat deep. You can’t really blame tactics when there were so many poor performances. It seemed like only Valencia and Rashford showed up.
FAB: Fellaini and Pogba have done well in the previous games, which made me believe that despite my reservations about Fellaini, things were changing. Perhaps it was because he suffered a back injury but he definitely wasn’t the Fellaini I was expecting. I agree Pogba and Fellaini didn’t seem to work well together in the game and neither of them had the courage to stop City’s players. For me, Herrera didn’t get enough praise for what he did on the pitch against City. One of the things I fear most when he plays is that he can get booked easily, but on this occasion he was magical. You could see him in every move, controlling the ball, moving forward and what’s more important, giving freedom to Pogba. He was even brave in facing De Bruyne, something that hadn’t been done during the first half. He should be in the starting lineup.
BETS: I think another issue was fitness. We looked absolutely knackered after 60 minutes, the point of the match when many thought City would be fading and we’d be pushing on. I also see the logic in the swift counter attacking team choice, but of the four players expected to be most rapid coming forward – Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Shaw and Valencia – three were coming back from injury and the fourth from a late flight back from South America. Lingard and Mkhitaryan were never going to play 90 minutes, nor was Shaw. So it was a sensible team selection if those players had been 100%, but Rashford and Martial or even Memphis would have made more sense on this occasion.
COREY: Maybe Rashford did deserve to start. But Memphis has given us no reason to think he would have performed any better than Lingard, and we have all been crying for Mkhitaryan to start for a couple of weeks now. As for Martial, he hasn’t been at his best this season, and people were starting to question whether he needed a rest anyway. Nobody could have known that Mkhitaryan and Lingard would play poorly. Plus it’s not like the likes of Rooney, Pogba, or Fellaini did them any favours, as our entire midfield played poorly in the first half. We bought Mkhitaryan to provide assists, not defend for 45 minutes.
RICK: We like to make excuses about travelling players but Valencia was the last player back, only 24 hours before the game, and he was out best player!
HEMOR: We need to switch to 4-3-3 with Pogba and Herrera in front of the DM. If Rooney can’t seal a position on either wing then he should move to the bench. I’m done accommodating him in the no. 10 position. Also, I think he did more on the wing yesterday than he has done at no. 10 all season. If we still want to keep playing 4-2-3-1, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Herrera or even Pogba should play at no. 10 ahead of Rooney.
TOM: I thought there was a complete lack of pressing from us in the first half, we pretty much just sat back and let them play. The introduction of Herrera in the 2nd half addressed this. For me though, what I saw shows the need for a 4-3-3 to be played against tougher opposition.
CARL: I agree regarding 4-3-3. Based on the City game we’ll struggle against fast, packed and talented midfielders without an extra body in there. I’d be worried about facing say Chelsea with Kante, Hazard and Willian with just Fellaini and Pogba in there. 4-3-3 would also give us the best chance of getting the best out of Pogba.
TOM: If Rooney wasn’t in the squad I have no doubt we’d be playing 4-3-3 for the majority of matches.
JIM: We should have played Rashford from the start for pace in behind. He came on and caused chaos and had he started it could’ve been an entirely different game.
TOM: Rashford made an impact but that wouldn’t have made much difference without the introduction of pressure in the middle of the park i.e. Herrera.
FAB: Surely Rashford has earned himself a spot in the Starting XI. Once again he proved that he is our biggest threat up front. United needed someone like Marcus and that incredible and fascinating second half performance must have made Mourinho think about his choices once again. He’s dangerous when getting close to the goalie’s area, can deal with long balls, easily enters into the pace of the game. What a player!
Something else we haven’t mentioned is that clearly Mourinho still hasn’t recovered from his old obsession of defeating Pep Guardiola. For me, this obsession seemed to affect him.