Jose Mourinho has explained why Manchester United failed to score during their 0-0 with Manchester City on Thursday night.
But with Man City pressing hard and Man United lacking midfield creativity, the visitors were forced into playing the majority of the second period in their own half.
And Mourinho, speaking after the game, was quick to note that United lacked some notable quality in midfield.
“They started strong, pushed hard and I promised not to speak about players who weren’t playing so I won’t but we just didn’t have the quality of players in midfield – we were missing quality there,” he said.
“In the first half, we were always dangerous and there were points where our movement could have been the start of something important but we lost too many balls.
“Today we showed exactly that (resilience) against a strong team that wants to win at home. With ten men. Without midfield players on the bench. I played Fosu-Mensah (there) in an extreme situation. To play a big derby like this one shows resilience, and big character from the players.”
Mourinho may have chosen to avoid mentioning names, but supporters will know exactly who could have made a difference against Pep Guardiola’s men: Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman has been met with derision this season, supposedly unable to advance United’s cause in any meaningful way, but his absence against City had brutally clear ramifications on the side’s fluidity going forward.
He may not score screamers and provide sensational assists every week, but he serves as the crucial mediator between defence and attack, muscling the ball off opponents and spraying the ball forward in one silky move, giving a crucial sense of seamlessness to United’s attacking movements.
And Marouane Fellaini, his replacement, simply couldn’t offer anything close. The Belgian failed to find the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford on a regular enough basis and City, in turn, managed to apply pressure on United’s midfield. The whole nature of the encounter, one feels, could have been very different with Pogba in the mix instead.