4-0. What is there to say? Manchester United suffered their worst loss away from home since 1999, Jose Mourinho suffered his worst ever loss in the Premier League and his star studded squad was humbled by a better drilled Chelsea squad motivated by revenge against their former manager, thrashing United literally from start to finish.
It was an abject and frankly pathetic display from the Red Devils, who lacked direction, fluidity and everything required to get a result from one of the season’s biggest fixtures. United struggled from start to finish, and although the stats sheet might say they had plenty of shots (16 in total) they never really tested Chelsea the way the Blues dominated them.
It was a humiliation in every way, and United are now left scrambling to recover before this week’s cup fixture with Manchester City.
On his return to the ground he once called his own fortress, Jose Mourinho was utterly taken apart by the team he could not motivate last season when he was sacked 14 months ago. Antonio Conte’s men bamboozled the Red Devils tactically, and United’s wide men had no idea how to handle Chelsea’s 3-4-3.
Arsenal’s thrashing of the Blues showed Conte had to make changes, and that loss has paid dividends ever since. Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante dominated midfield, and Eden Hazard terrorised United’s defence. Normally a hallmark of any Portuguese team, United’s back four was horrendous time and again.
In another big game Mourinho was found wanting tactically, and questions are going to be asked yet again this week if he is able to make adjustments when required. A title winner a mere 17 months ago, that is starting to feel like a long, long time ago. Doubts are coming about his management on and off the pitch, and he has to start turning it around and fast. 14 points in the opening 9 games means 13 points have been dropped already. Patience is worn thin.
Captain’s Disastrous Day Out
Chris Smalling was an abomination last night, and it might have been his worst performance in a United shirt certainly at least in the last two years. He was involved in all four goals, and certainly directly at fault for at least three of them. With Eric Bailly’s potential serious knee injury awaiting test results, Smalling’s display was all the more worrisome.
“He is injured and I am afraid he is badly injured,” the United manager said. “In his knee, in the ligament area. He feels that it is really bad.”
With the club already likely stressing over Bailly’s absence when he heads to the African Cup of Nations in the new year, the defensive display was something of very serious concern. Antonio Valencia provided width, and he and Bailly are the only two who could come close to walking out of the game with their head’s held high.
Smalling is lucky United don’t have better quality defensively, otherwise his place would be in jeopardy. United have big worries, and sadly this is not the only one.
Ibrahimovic Form Worries
Zlatan Ibrahimovic got off to a barnstorming start at Manchester United, netting in his first few games and setting England a light. He was putting to bed worries of not being able to adapt to English football, or that his age would be too much to overcome when making his riskiest move yet.
The Swede leads the Premier League both major scoring chances and in turn, major chances missed. It is now five games in a row where he has missed shots on goal where he should have done better and likely scored, and it is starting to catch up with United in a big way.
Fans good will is already wearing thin and when it becomes bad form for the team they will turn on him quickly and are already doing so. He has sat out midweek fixtures, and may do so against Manchester City. It’s promising that he’s finding himself in good positions but it’s meaningless without adding to the scoresheet. Will someone step up and take his place?
Every Manager Needs Time, However…
Managers need time to create change, that is obvious. However it is somewhat worrying watching rivals move ahead of United despite vast spending. Paul Pogba struggled again, as he is unable to stamp his authority on big games. Selections around him play a part (he still is not gelling with the controversial Marouane Fellaini) but at some point the Frenchman is also responsible. He carries a huge weight, and Mourinho needs to find the solution to ease that burden.
Jurgen Klopp has a record at Liverpool in his first season in charge that mirrored Brendan Rodgers, but he also had no transfer window to remedy these flaws. He’s also made the players at his disposal work for him, an issue Mourinho is still struggling with.
Apart from the Leicester victory, United have not played a quality of football that matches Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal or even Chelsea who are now rounding into good form. They lie only six points behind, but that is still significant when their best football doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.
A Team Ruled By Their Flaws
The saying goes you are only as strong as your weak link, and that is certainly the case for United. Realistically, only these players make a high quality Manchester United squad either as first XI or squad players:
- David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (also becoming a maybe).
That is a huge worry, but it also speaks volumes as to United’s struggles. Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini, Marcos Rojo, Wayne Rooney and others should not be getting anywhere near a good Red Devils team, and it’s players like that defining how United are playing at the moment.
Everyone knew to an accent that Manchester United were not the finished article, but this is simply not good enough. A tough week of criticism from all directions awaits.