Typically, when picking a man of the match for a certain game, you’d look at the one player who stood out as being the best performer of the day, the one player who made the biggest positive impact out of everyone on the pitch. But sometimes a player can stand out as the best through the worst method possible: by not being as disgraceful as the rest of the team.
Today’s game against Chelsea was sadly one such occasion. This was a big game for Manchester United. Not only because they’re playing a direct competitor high up the table, there’s also the added drama of Jose Mourinho returning to face his former club at their home ground. He opted to pick the same team as the one that drew at Liverpool, with the exception of Jesse Lingard who starts in place of Ashley Young, no doubt in hopes that they’d show similar defensive resilience.
30 seconds and all hope of that happening went out the window, as Pedro took advantage of an indecisive Chris Smalling and David De Gea rushing out of goal to open the scoring. Twenty minutes later Gary Cahill doubled their lead through a corner kick. By the end of the game, the lead was double that, with Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante made the most of United’s unresponsive midfield and to waltz past a stagnant United defence and slot one each past De Gea.
In between all that, United put on what could be, and unsurprisingly, their worst performance of the season so far. In defence, Smalling was incredibly suspect and failed to stop Pedro, Hazard, or Kante in going past him for their goals, and Daley Blind was so transfixed with staying tight on Pedro to actually defend out wide and was regularly caught in between. Eric Bailly could walk away with some dignity, except he’d struggle to do that after pulling up injured and having to be replaced by Marcos Rojo.
The midfield was mostly pathetic. Ander Herrera, to his credit, did his fair share of pressing and was also the one attacking contributor from midfield, but he spent most of the game doing that on his own. Paul Pogba was a passenger throughout the game, only noticeable on screen because of his tall figure, and Marouane Fellaini stopped build up play whenever he received the ball.
The attack was possibly the best, or least worst, part of the team. There were some decent chances created, but none were converted. Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to put away chances as he’s been in recent games. Marcus Rashford spent too much time covering Blind to be effective. Juan Mata’s introduction made for smoother build-up but compromised the midfield structure.
So where did all the chances came from? Well, the best chance creator of the day was right back Antonio Valencia. He wasn’t anything special defensively but created some genuinely threatening chances. He created the best chance of the day early on with a cross that Ibrahimovic headed just over. His direct running and crossing were United’s primary, and at times their only, attacking outlet until the latter stages of the game, when Chelsea left wing back Marcos Alonso had him figured out and did well preventing him from getting into good crossing positions.
In the end, Valencia was one of three United players, along with Herrera and Bailly, who seemed to actually try and make something out of the game. As the rest of the team watched on, these three went about their job, and out of the three Valencia was most deserving of being the Man of the Match. Although, for games like this, it’s almost an ironic award.