Manchester United won 2-0 at Burnley. Here are four things we learned.
Mourinho’s Pink Army
For the last seven minutes or so, the away crowd at Turf Moor chanted “Mourinho’s Red Army.”
For the preceding eighty-plus minutes, this was an away performance as positive and professional as any given by the club in the last 5 years.
He started the week with his job on the line; the defeat to Spurs was followed by a theatrical display in front of the Stretford End which was clearly orchestrated to justify his comments about having the fans behind him. But — plane banner completely ignored — this was a fairly emphatic show of support for the manager from a vocal travelling support.
Those fans were given a reward. The other supporters, those who remain opposed to Mourinho’s stewardship, merely think the inevitable is being postponed, and too many are now too firmly entrenched in their belief he should go that they refuse to praise him for anything.
It’s a shame, because United were impressive, and it was a promising sign of how they can play under their manager. It was also sixty minutes of Alexis Sanchez looking better than he has for a while in the United shirt; ironic, considering this was the sort of away performance the team were putting in just prior to his arrival.
All in all it suggests that there could be life in the club under Mourinho. The bigger problems for him, as seems to be a trend in his Old Trafford career, is how he can get the team in the groove at home.
Pedestrian Pogba Dictates the Pace
Romelu Lukaku was the star man and possibly played his best game for the club; he was unfortunate for one reason or another not to get a hat-trick, which was the perfect riposte — not that he was listening — to this writer doubting him on the inaugural WATBB podcast this week.
But behind him, Paul Pogba was the master dictator, conducting the pace of the game and at times switching it up in a way Burnley couldn’t cope. The way Pogba strolls through games can in times be infuriating because it’s reminiscent of the way he used to do it at a younger level and you can be left — on the occasions like the last two games — wondering if he cares at all.
But then he plays like today, despite the missed penalty, and you realise how much better the team is with him. There’s just the small matter of getting everyone in sync, which, in no small part, depends on the next segment of this recap.
Jose Mourinho rung the changes in defence again and this time it was Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof starting.
The last thing I want to do after a good performance and a clean sheet is be a Debbie Downer but, regardless of the 2-0 win, it does not remove the concern. First of all, there is proven evidence that a settled defence benefits any football team and there is proven evidence that chopping and changing will inevitably produce a good result.
This good result, therefore, does not mean that this is the best Manchester United defence, and to be honest, it’s almost a redundant issue to labour the point considering Chris Smalling is the personification of what we are talking about. He made a world class block in the first half against Spurs on Monday and was left looking embarrassed (though he won’t be the first) against Lucas Moura less than an hour later.
He was perfectly okay today, and perfectly okay will get Manchester United through the better part of a season. It will also handicap them when it comes to the critical assessment. There’s no point talking about a title challenge, and that’s not being negative in writing it off so soon, but we can all see there is work to do and winning a title would be remarkable right now.
But, if United’s defence are regressing from last season — and despite today, it seems that is a truism — then the collective hope has to be that they haven’t regressed so much that a Champions League place isn’t out of the question.
As mentioned above, Sanchez was fine. His clipped cross for the first goal was clever and he was unfortunate not to get something himself.
Marcus Rashford, his replacement, looked lively. The incident for his red card will be a learning curve — he was unfortunate to get lured in like that, especially when Bardsley was the experienced aggressor.
Neither were brilliant and yet on the limited evidence of this season there seems to be a clear pecking order with Anthony Martial, a favourite particularly among the fans who are deeply entrenched against Mourinho, being the third choice. Martial has the potential to be the best in that role at the club and yet his attitude holds him back. Remove the current manager from the equation and surely most other managers would see it the same way. That said, it’s as fluid as everything else, and if there is a pecking order, there’s also a position in the team up for grabs.