After Manchester United have won seven out of their first ten competitive games this season by three clear goals or more, the Red Thoughts team discuss whether the scorelines may be giving a false impression of United’s form.
CARL: Absolutely not. From a tactical standpoint we’re getting exactly what we deserve. Our fitness, our organisation, our confidence and determination, along with José’s management of matches and the way he utilises his substitutes to maximum impact continuously is testament to the genius of the man.
EHSAAN: Ermmmm… Nope. We get caught out every once in a while, but so does every other team. And whenever United get caught, the defence or De Gea almost always cleans up. Last season was full of nil-nil or one-one draws, but this season we’ve only drawn one match and we didn’t draw that due to bad finishing (mostly sloppy defending). And let’s not forget, there is not a single team that has kept a clean sheet against us this season. Trust José, because he’s simply brilliant.
JIM: I don’t think so. It shows that the squad has properly gelled and that Mourinho has finally put his stamp on the team. Plus, we’d expect to get these kinds of scorelines against some of the teams we’ve faced.
RICK: No, it doesn’t flatter us. This season is all about what we missed last season. Apart from the obvious assurance that Matic has brought our defence, our conversion of chances into goals has also increased and instead of struggling to hold on to a 1-0 lead, we are putting away our chances and scoring 4 goals on a regular basis. That is not down to chance. Yes, we don’t have the possession, but José has never been that type of manager. He has mixed the closing down game that Pep was so renowned for at Barca with the typical United pacy counter-attacking play which completely blew Palace and other teams away when in full flow. The times when teams like Palace have been on top is when we’ve eased off and allowed them space, so as to then be able to counter them when they think they can get a goal and push more people forward. That’s great tactics and is how José works out how to get the lesser teams, which try to park the bus, to open up and attack us. You let them have the ball, they think they can score and attack us, so we win it back and counter them.
I mean, in the league, we’ve only conceded against Stoke – well actually, only one player can say he’s scored against us so far this season in the Premier League and that is Choupo- Moting. That isn’t by chance, but by hard work and defending from the front. Something that Lukaku, especially, came in for a lot of criticism for before he joined us.
DEAN: Absolutely definitely NOT. This is another Mourinho masterstroke yet again, United are killing off games, while giving their opponents few chances in the games. United have a solid backbone centrally in Matic and Fellaini, and are tight and compacted, and well organised at the back. I would point out that United so far have a tendency to fade out and lack focus for around 10/15 mins in games, which would be a concern for Mourinho, especially against the top teams in the league. Also, United do tend to sit back in certain periods of the game, when I feel they don’t necessarily need to. But so far, United have deserved every goal, especially after last season.
HEMOR: Apart from the Everton game, which should have been a 2-1 or 2-0 win at most based on our performance, I think we deserve the rest. To be honest, we deserve to have scored even more goals. Look at the Palace game: Lukaku missed a great chance, there was also a counter attack where Lukaku tried to pass to Rashford but the pass was blocked, he could have played a shot with his right and probably scored. Herrera also missed an easy goal against Southampton, Lukaku missed a penalty against Leicester and so on. There are several chances that could have made us score 6-8 goals in those 4 goals matches, so I don’t think the scorelines flatter us; we’ve greatly improved our conversion rate and we’ve found a way to break down teams. As Rick said, sometimes we let the smaller teams have the ball which makes them come out to try to score then we hit them on the counter.
BETS: I’m sure you’re all right and I do think the difference that Matic and Lukaku have made, plus Martial’s form, have transformed us. I suppose what worries me is that our start to the season has almost been too easy. We played West Ham, Swansea, Everton, Palace, Leicester all at a time when they were really struggling for form. We played against Burton Albion’s reserves because Cloughie was resting players. Even in the UCL, Basel and CSKA are off the pace a little in their home leagues.
Don’t get me wrong, I know you can only beat what’s in front of you, and we have done that. But I don’t think we were as dominant as some of the scorelines suggest, and we just haven’t been tested (except really by Southampton, when we parked the bus). City, by contrast, have already played and beaten Liverpool and Chelsea. I wish we’d had a sterner test going into the Liverpool game.
RICK: You can’t compare the City vs. Liverpool game, because that game was close until Mané got sent off. After that, well, you know what happens when you play against a quality side with 10 men. Plus, you say that about these teams struggling or not in form, but every team raises their game against United, that is a fact – and not only that, but these are the teams for the past few seasons that we’ve been drawing with or losing against because we haven’t been clinical up front. So your argument of playing them at a good time is still flawed.
CARL: Come on Bets! West Ham weren’t struggling for form, we were their first match so how can you possibly know what their form was? They came to Old Trafford and we slapped them, just like we have 80% of opposition this season so far. I really lose track of people’s perception of this league. One minute it’s the most competitive league in the world and then when we continually smash opposition, suddenly we haven’t played anyone yet? We’ve been in complete control of practically every match so far and our defence is barely letting anything through. We battered Swansea at their place and they got a point at Wembley from Spurs, we beat Leicester 2-0 who, although they lost to Arsenal and Liverpool too, also put 3 and 2 respectively past those two teams. Chelsea lost to Burnley, Liverpool drew with Burnley and Watford, Arsenal lost to Stoke etc., so you can’t take anything for granted. We shouldn’t be too quick to forget last season, where we would draw with all these opponents and now we’re smashing them. What more can you ask for?
We are doing what we have to and beating what’s put in front of us. When the bigger tests come, then we’ll see how it goes, but I don’t know how anyone could possibly be critical of the start we’ve made. Let’s remember where we’ve come from in the last few seasons and how we haven’t competed in the league at all, we’re visibly making massive strides. As for City, yes they’ve made a very good start, but we have no say in that, all we can do is take care of our own matches, which we are doing. I don’t think you’re giving us the credit we deserve.
BETS: It’s an interesting point about it being “the most competitive league in the world” because what I’m wondering is whether that is starting to change. There have been a lot of easy wins for United, City and Spurs – admittedly Chelsea have had their problems but still beat Stoke 4-0. Against Real Madrid by contrast, I think we looked out of our league. I actually don’t think Real played very well, or needed to play very well.
You can only beat what’s in front of you and I’m not criticising the team – I’m very happy. But I think we could be in for a bit of a rude awakening when we play some of the bigger teams because we’ve not really had any stern tests so far, things have gone our way in terms of getting early goals etc, so it might be hard to take the step up when it comes.
CARL: I agree that the results would suggest the bridge in quality between the top few clubs and the rest is widening, but then that should have been expected with the standard of managers we now have. I don’t agree with you about Real. Maybe Real weren’t at their best but then neither were United, and we had key players out, whereas they didn’t. Nobody is going to win every match against their top six rivals anyway, so I don’t know why people are constantly bringing it up.
HEMOR: I agree with Bets, we’re yet to face the big boys and I’d love to see how we perform in our next four Premier League games (Liverpool, Huddersfield, Tottenham and Chelsea). I think we have what it takes to win all of those games. Of course it’ll be difficult, but if we can take our chances, we’re defensively solid enough to be able to stop them from outscoring us. I’m hoping Jones or Bailly won’t be injured before then though and hopefully Pogba will be back.
RICK: I’m still concerned about us playing a big game without Pogba. We are so much better with him in the team and against the top sides, who can make more of their possession, we will struggle. Fellaini and Herrera especially are now starting to get their form back, but I would feel more confident with Pogba in the team when we play City or Chelsea.
EHSAAN: The sooner Pogba comes back, the better we’ll be as a team.
HEMOR: I’m worried about Mkhi’s form in the last few games. Even when properly rested, he still hasn’t found the form he had at the start of the season. In our next four Premier League games we’ll need him and everyone to be on top form, because those games will be very crucial to our title-winning chances.
BETS: I do agree he has been poor, particularly in his concentration and decision-making in the last few games.
RICK: I’m not worried. I’d be worried if he wasn’t playing well and the rest of the team weren’t playing well either. You could also say that maybe Pogba’s presence in the team was aiding his performances, because Mkhi hasn’t really done much since Pogba got injured. But I’m sure it’ll pick up again and he’ll perform when we need him to. The big problem would come if all our main men had an off day all at once.