Rui Faria’s Red Army ran riot in Manchester on Wednesday night, as Jose Mourinho was forced to watch from a “secret” location due to a ridiculous FA ban for kicking a water bottle. His United though unleashed their Premier League frustrations on West Ham United after a tough draw on Sunday, thrashing the Hammers 4-1 after Zlatan’s opening strike was even earlier than Diafra Sakho’s 90 second goal on Sunday.
It paved the way for a huge win, as United’s attack finally clicked against an English opponent for the first time since September. Anthony Martial added a brace before Zlatan got his second late on, as the United attack ran riot at Old Trafford, scoring four goals for the second time inside a week. Mourinho was pleased with what he was forced to watch away from the sidelines:
“I wanted to play the kind of football people want because it’s the Manchester United tradition so I’m really happy with that. I never had a team with so much possession, I never had a team with so much creation, I never had a team with so many chances — but I never had a team with so many draws. I want this beautiful team to win more matches.”
Critics will preach a false dawn, but perhaps the puzzle that is United’s best XI is starting to take shape.
Mkhitaryan Destroys The Hammers
Two starts, two man of the match awards for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as he flourished against a physical side like West Ham and begun to stake his claim to be in the team as a permanent fixture. He provided two assists, the first a wonderful back heel for Ibrahimovic before a cutback allowed Anthony Martial to put the Red Devils in the lead.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan vs West Ham:
59 touches, 46 passes, 94% accuracy.
7 key passes, 2 assists.
Man of the Match.
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) November 30, 2016
Debate will rage whether he has been held back by Mourinho or unleashed at the right time, either way he is just what United seems to need in attack right now. The team has a lot of similar attackers, but the Armenian is his own kind of terror. He operates in spaces others do not, and certainly uses them very well.
He’s likely earned a start against Everton, though he may not play 90 minutes as he still pushes towards full fitness. Does that mean even better performances lie ahead? Mourinho was certainly happy with what he saw:
The United manager said: “I’m so happy today because today was against a Premier League team, with Premier League qualities, with Premier League characteristics. Against Feyenoord, we could think ‘OK, it’s a different profile of football’ but today was against a proper and a typical Premier League team and Mkhi could perform this way.
So we are really happy because we know the reason why we bought him and we were waiting for his adaptation and it looks like it’s coming.”
Martial Looks Like Himself Again
For the first time this season, Anthony Martial truly looks like the man who took England by storm last campaign. His resting/dropping from the team seems to have benefited greatly, as the squad rotation Mourinho has employed seemed to pay dividends in particular for the Frenchman.
Martial gave Pedro Obiang fits on the left side of United’s attack, forcing him into an early booking with two bad fouls with the Frenchman running straight at him.
Perhaps this is a turning point for the Frenchman more than anybody else, even Mkhitaryan. His star was fading this season under the scrutiny of a new manager combined with family issues off the pitch. This might see him reborn under Mourinho, for whom he had struggled so far. A wide pairing of the two M’s could be United’s future.
No Pogba, No Problem As Bastian Returns From Exile
Bastian Schweinsteiger lives! The German made an appearance from the bench to see out the last five minutes, seeing out the game and helping set up the fourth goal of the game with a clever touch. Fans roared whilst he warmed up, giving him a loud round of applause before arguably the loudest cheer of the night was when he was brought on the pitch.
Many believed and reports had circulated that the club had given Jose Mourinho a directive to no longer play the German due to his £240,000 per week wage packet in an attempt to drive him out of the club. He still could leave as soon as January, but if United can afford it would it really be so bad to see the midfielder sit in for Michael Carrick when the Englishman needs a rest?
That decision will be left to the higher uppers at United, but fans were overjoyed to see his smile return to the pitch at Old Trafford.
Strength In Numbers
After looking desperately thin in past weeks due to the struggles of fringe players, that has not been the case of late. Antonio Valencia has cemented the number one spot at right back, and Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo (particularly the latter) have been solid at the back.
Rojo was terrific again on Wednesday, sliding into challenges and disposing of the ball well. It appears Mourinho has worked hard on his flaws in training, with the Argentine choosing which challenges to jump into and not dwelling on the ball as long. He’s also much more comfortable in his natural central defensive role, rather than the left back role he’s struggled in.
Meanwhile, it’s fair to say at this point that Daley Blind is a better option for the club right now at left back than Luke Shaw. Matteo Darmian has been solid, but he doesn’t have the forward thrust or set piece acumen the Dutchman can provide. This wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Englishman Shaw however, who has struggled in the limelight in his time in Manchester. Perhaps like others, he could benefit from some time outside the first XI.
De Gea Struggles, Ibrahimovic Inconsistencies
David De Gea appears more suited to bailing out Manchester United time and again every game under Louis Van Gaal than he does barely touching the ball under Jose Mourinho. The Spanish genius has struggled somewhat this campaign, committing an error that allowed Ashley Fletcher to score his first goal for his new club against the club that let him go.
De Gea might only appear to be struggling because of his previous brilliance by comparison, but it appears all is not quite right with the Spaniard. Hopefully this mistake is a wake up call, because with tough games coming up the team will need him at his very best.
Ibrahimovic continues to frustrate however, not as efficient as fans would have liked. He has been helpful in build up play and has eleven goals which is no mean feat, but he has missed easy chances and has not been clinical when he’s needed to be. With competition fierce, he’ll want to sort that out heading into a tough December and January run.
Manchester United now head into the weekend likely still slightly spooked by what has happened to them in recent weeks, but also full of confidence from some good midweek performances. What will a Sunday trip to Goodison Park bring?