This week, the Red Thoughts team discusses the draw against Stoke City and whether it was the international break or the absence of Fellaini that was the reason for the dropped points.
HEMOR: Since the beginning of last season, United have failed to win a game following an international break. I know the international break affects the team’s momentum, but other top clubs in the Premier League and around the world also have most of their players go on international breaks and, when they come back, they still perform very well. But not United. I remember we started having series of bad performances after our first international break last season.
COREY: I think it would be an oversimplification to say fatigue has nothing to do with it. Most of our team was away on international duty, flying to all corners of the globe. Playing four games in two weeks, plus all the air travel, can wear players out. Not to mention, while they are out travelling and training with their international teams, they are not at home preparing for the Stoke game. The international break means Mourinho doesn’t have the same time to work with his players and prepare for games.
This is in no way an excuse, because Mourinho and the players will have known all this ahead of time. It’s simply an observation. For some of our players, Basel was the fifth game in just under 3 weeks.
HEMOR: Yeah, the international break causes fatigue and that’s one of the reasons I hate it, but like I said before, other teams also have lots of players that go on international break and they still manage to win after the break.
DAN: I think its got something to do with the distance some of the lads travel. But I feel there is no need to have an international break so close to the start of the season.
RICK: I know we have lots of players on international duty and yes, jetlag can play a part in it. But you do have to consider the opposition that we play against. Stoke had few to no players on international duty and thus their players were fresh and had been fully prepared for our game. They also had more time to prepare, whereas our team was in all different parts of the globe. You can say it’s not an excuse and sometimes that’s true and other times it isn’t. It really does depend on our opposition and it’s not as simple as just after the international break we don’t do well.
REX: It’s dependent on how many players the team sends away and how far. I think most top teams in general have to deal with this issue, not just United, as all the top clubs lose players because they play for a top team. So it becomes a question of who you play after the break. We played Stoke this year, who have always been a bogey team for us regardless of international breaks or not. For whatever reason, we can’t seem to go there and play them off the park, regardless of the time of year. To top it off, I don’t think any of their players have international duty. If they do, it won’t be in the same numbers as a United team who probably lose 8-9 starters to their national teams. So in reality, they’ve got the whole week to prepare.
Last year was a completely different year for United as a team, so I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on us not winning after the break, as we didn’t win a lot of games throughout the season. We didn’t lose many, but didn’t win either.
BETS: I think there was a difference between the failure to win at Stoke, and those of last season. Last season, I thought that despite arrogant figures like Zlatan being in the squad, our confidence was really fragile. When we strung a few results together, it always looked shaky. When we conceded a goal, we seemed to panic a bit and it knocked us back. So we needed a momentum last season that the international breaks interrupted.
I thought the Stoke game was different. We were by far the better side, and deserved to win. We didn’t panic when we conceded, it was like the SAF days, we had the confidence to go back up the other end and score almost straight away. We were unlucky not to score more, and the two we conceded were as a result of individual errors from our centre backs. It was always going to be hard to score three against a team parking the bus like that and we didn’t quite do it.
So I’m not too concerned about the effect of the international break. What concerns me is that all of our centre backs, even Bailly now, seem to make expensive mistakes at bad times. I do think that this is going to cost us big this season. I understand arguments about our wonderful defensive record etc. last season, but we weren’t playing Champions League, and we also have to consider that usually Mourinho set us up not to concede, which, along with poor finishing, was why we didn’t score nearly enough goals in the PL. To score more goals, we have to leave our defence a bit more exposed and that’s when we see the mistakes. It’s unusual, and hopefully a one off, for Eric to mess up, but Jonesy slips and falls over way too much.
HEMOR: I understand our confidence as a team has improved, but like we saw last season, we could totally dominate a game and still not win. That’s what I’m worried might happen to us this season if we’re not careful.
If our midfield and attack can dominate and kill teams off, I won’t be too bothered about to our defence. Barcelona don’t have the best defence in the world, but they still beat teams like Juve and Atletico with some of the best (if not the best) defences in the world. Also, we have a lot of options in defence; Rojo will be back most probably before December (he has started training with the team), Lindelof will hopefully also start performing soon and Smalling also has his good days. There’s also Blind and Tuanzebe. Also, Carrick can play there if absolutely needed. We might not have world class defenders, but we have quite a number of quality defenders, so we should be fine. I agree our lack of world class CBs will be more exposed in the Champions League when we face the best teams in Europe, but the UCL is not the main target for this season anyway. Our defence is more than fine for the Premier League and domestic cups.
A lack of players that can deliver a good cross on a consistent basis is another thing that worries me; our full backs and wingers deliver few good crosses in several attempts. I’ve said this several times and I’ll say it again, we need Beckham to teach our players how to cross the ball.
BETS: Yes, Young’s crossing was a rare breath of fresh air against Basel.
RICK: We were let down by our 2 CBs against Stoke – both Bailly and Jones were absolutely shocking and were guilty of making basic defensive errors. Rio Ferdinand was going livid on BT Sport at how bad their defending was. I know it was a one off bad game, but it was really bad. If Bailly and more specifically Jones hadn’t made those mistakes then we’d have won that game. Basic front post defending from a cross and he just totally lost his man for the second goal.
REX: You have to view it in context…defensive errors cost us this game. Nothing more. Two mistakes, two sloppy goals given away. Other than the save De Gea made (astonishing by the way) he wasn’t really troubled the rest of the game. Both our center halves had a nightmare against Stoke. Hopefully it’s a one off as until Rojo returns, Bailly and Jones would be our first choice pairing there. We dominated them, we were in control the whole time and should have even won it if Lukaku had connected right with Martial’s cross in the dying moments of the game. So I’m not seeing a trend yet, just defensive errors against a decent team that will scalp a few top teams at their stadium.
DAN: Lets face it, I think though a point at Stoke isn’t a bad thing on the whole. Yes, we wanted and expected 3 points, but we know Stoke always get themselves going for the arrival of the big boys and the Bet 365 is becoming a bit of a bogey ground for us.
RICK: Exactly. Not only that, but Jose has his own bad hoodoo record when playing away at Stoke as well. So a draw is not too bad a result. It could have been worse, we could be Arsenal, who lost.
BETS: Mourinho said we failed to win the game because we missed Fellaini to defend against set pieces, he really loves the guy.
JIM: But after the Basel performance, considering Mourinho trusts him and considering he’s actually proved himself rather effective as a penalty box nuisance, is Fellaini starting to become an underrated player for us? I would say he is, because under Mourinho he’s been deployed properly and as a result he’s scored some important goals for us under his tenure. I’m happy to say the guy is proving me wrong.
DAN: I think Fellaini was always made a scapegoat. The lad has always given 100% and has got his confidence back.
CARL: Too many people fail to realise that without him stepping into Carrick’s place in the second half of last season, we’d have been screwed. He’s been a great option for us for ages. He grew on me when I started to realise his importance and have ardently defended him for a couple of seasons now.
JIM: It’s only really since earlier this year that I started to realise his importance. It’s nice that under Mourinho we’re seeing the Everton Fellaini that can score goals and wreak havoc amongst opposition defences.
BETS: I think the Basel game may finally have been the day I came to accept him. Has he finally cut out the unnecessary fouling? Because he works so hard, he scores goals, he defends well, he gives 100%, but I’ve never liked the stupid free kicks he gives away, If he’s finally cut that out, I declare myself a fan.
DEAN: To be honest, I’m personally very happy Fellaini is getting the recognition he deserves for his current form and form since Mourinho arrived. He’s a key player for United, who makes a BIG impact in games. He gives Mourinho different options, he’s a nightmare for defenders in the box and at set pieces. His name has been dragged through the mud, mocked and slammed for years but now he’s proving everyone wrong.