At the end of August, United fans were rightly optimistic about their chances of Premier League glory this season. The month of September has brought expectations back down to the worryingly low points it reached under Moyes and Van Gaal. The loss against Manchester City was not detrimental as United looked like a good team, however, the recent performances against Feyenoord and Watford have rightly given fans cause for concern. Rooney, Pogba and Mourinho have taken the majority of the criticism but the problems run much deeper than individuals. United lack identity and the midfield imbalance is an issue which Mourinho will need to address quickly if he wants to maintain a title challenge.
A visit to Northampton Town may been seen as an easy confidence booster, but the League 1 side gave West Bromwich Albion more troubles than they expected in the previous round, knocking out the Premier League team on penalties. Mourinho started a second-string team with the likes of Fosu-Mensah, Rojo and Depay keen to make an impression on the manager and fans. The performance was by no means straightforward; United opened the scoring through a fine Carrick goal but finished the half on equal terms when Alex Revell tucked home a penalty. A more positive second half saw Herrera and Rashford’s strikes seal Northampton’s fate. A 3-1 score line justifies United’s dominance, but the performance was not completely convincing.
The Argentinian goal-keeper will not be threatening De Gea’s starting spot any time soon. While he started the game positively with a fine clearing punch in the 18th minute, his aerial abilities looked shaky when put under pressure. His uncertainty was visible to the Northampton fans who leapt onto the opportunity to unsettle him further, chanting and “ooh”ing whenever the ball was passed back to the Argentinian. Probably would not have been able to save Revell’s penalty even if he had dived the right way and was not tested further.
Like Romero, started the game well with a brilliant interception in the 11th minute which led to a good chance. The promising youngster also marshalled his opponents well in the opening 20 minutes and was unlucky not to score from a fantastic leap and header which cannoned off the bar. As the first half wore on, the Belgian was becoming increasingly exposed when caught in one-on-ones with Gorré. He gave Northampton’s tricky left winger too much space at times and was beaten whenever marking too tightly. His poor clearance in the 41st minute led straight to the Cobblers’ penalty and the youngster was hauled off by Mourinho shortly after half-time. Hopefully Fosu-Mensah will be given another opportunity to prove his immense talent and not be judged on this one appearance this season.
A very quiet game for the English international, which, as a general rule for a defender, is probably a good thing. Was tasked with the physicality of Revell and dealt with him without a problem. The opposition of Vardy and Slimani on Saturday will be a much more testing job.
In contrast to Smalling, was much more visible on the pitch. Gave away the penalty for a rushed challenge but did have lots of positive impacts too. Dealt surprisingly well with the physicality of Revell who was clearly trying to expose Blind’s lack of height. The Dutchman also had to constantly cover for Rojo who was caught out of position too many times. His most influential impact on United’s play was his surging runs from deep and impressive passing range which restarted the Reds’ attacks. Probably not a good enough performance to displace either Bailly or Smalling from a central defensive role against Leicester on Saturday.
It is a real shame that Mourinho decided to let Cameron Borthwick-Jackson go on loan to Wolves, where he has shined thus far, and keep Rojo as the back-up left back. The Argentinian is known fondly for his adoration of Manchester United, not his performances on the pitch. In offence, Rojo has decent cross in his locker, however, his primary function (defending) is not up to the standard of a typical United player. He struggled to clear the ball twice early on and ended up needlessly gifting Northampton a corner. His poor positioning made Blind a much more busy man than he needed to be. The problem with Luke Shaw’s injury is that Rojo is closer to the starting eleven than most United fans are comfortable with, although it is likely that Blind will cover for Shaw on Saturday.
Schneiderlin: 6Photo:Wikimedia Commons
As an almost forgotten man after a number of poor performances last season, the Frenchman retained some credit in his performance against Northampton. It was his excellent cross which led to Fosu-Mensah’s effort coming off the bar and his smart interception led to Herrera’s goal. His general play was not as crisp and smart as either of his midfield counterparts and, unfortunately, Schneiderlin is so far down the pecking order that he is unlikely to feature regularly for United.
Named Man of the Match on his first start since the Charity Shield, and fully deserved it. Carrick’s qualities are so often overlooked and sneered at, but the senior midfielder can completely run the show when given the opportunity. His range of passing was shown inside the first minute when he pinged the ball out to Depay without the Dutchman having to move his feet. His goal was brilliantly taken, calmly and instinctively side-footing a powerful shot into the top corner. His performance may encourage Mourinho to consider using Carrick as an anchor midfielder ahead of the erratic Fellaini.
Young’s talents have not been seen at United for a very long time. His creativity is almost non-existent and his driving runs no longer frighten fullbacks like they used to. What he does provide is industry; under Van Gaal, Young was transformed into an unorthodox wingback with reasonable success. At United, however, fans and Mourinho want specialists, no just someone who is going to run a lot. The Northampton players gave him a tough time in the final ten minutes and Young did not look adequately equipped to deal with the threat of League 1 attackers when switched to right back.
Herrera, like Carrick, has various qualities which are often overlooked by football fans. The Spaniard has such great spatial awareness and movement that allow him to up the tempo of United’s attacking fluidity. Against Northampton, he and Carrick’s passing ran the show, with the latter the more static of the two and the former more industrious. Against Watford, United learnt that late midfield runs into the box can be deadly. Herrera’s drilled finish from the edge of the area was a perfect example of what Capoue executed so effectively last weekend. Fans will hope that Herrera can partner up with Pogba and one other player regularly in midfield to create an industrious and talented core.
The Dutchman’s time at United is rapidly running out. His talents are clear, (see his beautiful jinking run in the 6th minute) however, his consistency is reminiscent of the fans’ frustrations with Nani. Depay is clearly suffering from a lack of confidence, and it is unlikely to get any easier for the mercurial winger to get into the side with the talents of Rashford and Martial ahead of him.
Things around Rooney are getting a bit odd now. The United and England skipper has so clearly been under-performing consistently for the last three seasons, yet Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho have all persisted in protecting him and starting him unjustifiably. Even odder is the backing Rooney gets from the majority of pundits and ex-players, leaving many United fans having to agree with Robbie Savage’s opinions (something that no-one should have to admit). Rooney was sluggish and his touch was awful as usual. His end product was no better either, missing three very decent opportunities to open the scoring. When Rooney was switched to the right wing later in the second half, Northampton targeted his and Young’s poor defensive nous, putting in a number of dangerous crosses from their flank. There will come a stage when Rooney’s poor touch and slow build-up play outweighs his ability to produce the spectacular, and the United captain will be dropped for the more consistent Mata or Mkhitaryan.
The Midas touch is strong with Marcus Rashford. The youngster seems to be unable to do any wrong. His introduction for Fosu-Mensah in the 55th minute added much more threat to United’s attacks. His assist to Herrera was perfectly weighted and so nonchalant for a man of his age. His grit and determination was summed up when he chased down Herrera’s hopeful lump, to nick the ball off Smith and smash the ball into the empty net. This 18 year old really is something special.
Really struggled to play up front with Rooney, as both players continuously got in each other’s way. Should have made a better effort of his header in the 93rd minute. Did not impact the game as effectively as Rashford.
His physicality was useful against O’Toole, but, other than that, failed to have any real impact on the game.