If there was an antithesis to the game against Leicester City last weekend, it was this game. Manchester United did manage to get all three points out of the game but that was not before a slow, frustrating and erratic game of football. It was not a nervy 1-0 win, but an unconvincing one. The opposition did not test Sergio Romero at all, apart from their only shot on target but United didn’t too. There were quite a few chances which went begging in the first half while one came off the outer half of the goal post. The game could have been different had that shot from Marcus Rashford gone in. But it was not to be and Zorya Luhansk continued putting bodies in defense and only going forward on counters.
It took United almost 70 minutes to get one passed the keeper and that too in a very clumsy fashion. A decent bit of play saw Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who had a good game, cross the ball in, looking for Wayne Rooney to blast it in, but the United captain uncomfortably knees the ball to somehow find Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the back post, who just had to overcome the defender and tap it in with a header. That goal summed up United’s performance tonight, clumsy and asking for more. Ibrahimovic, too, thought that the team could have done better.
“It was not an easy game, we played well, created chances but this is a typical game. When you don’t score in the beginning, the spaces get smaller and smaller. After the goal, we had more space but it was a decent game. We won and that is what counts after losing against Feyenoord.
“If you want to go through, you need to win the game, we did that. We could have done much more though and I expect much more from the team. We did not score as we did against Leicester but it is good for confidence. If we continue this and step it up, we will do good.”
Mourinho also expressed his thoughts about the game being a difficult one and a better first half display would have helped the matters.
“It was difficult. We had our chances in the first half, we could have scored and it would have been a different match. But we didn’t.
“They kept organised and had plenty of players behind the ball but with players ready to do something on the counter attack. It was difficult and we needed to win.”
In spite of three wins on the trot, the manager is keeping his calm, the similar way he did when his team went through three losses on the trot.
“One week, three defeats. One week, three victories. But I was not depressed by the defeats and I am not over the moon with three wins.”
He gave an insight to his thinking behind the substitutions and also highlighted the fact that he had a strong bench to turn to in the later part of the game.
“Since the first minute we were waiting for the goal but it didn’t arrive. You never know what happens and Sergio Romero made a good save when the score was 0-0.
“I had good players on the bench to help change the game. Wayne Rooney gave us different positions and speed when the opposing team was getting tired.”
He also spoke about his reflection of the Rooney assist, which was more of a miscued shot.
“He was laughing and saying he made a great assist. But really he gave me what the team needs at that time, which is a presence, a second presence in the box, he’s more a striker than a one [lone striker] and one went more to the right side.”
He had some positive words for Anthony Martial, who came in late as a substitute.
“And [Anthony] Martial brought after the goal freshness and speed to try to kill the game, which we didn’t but he was a positive presence, too so we start the game with a very good team, and I had on the bench players to give me solutions for everything.”
It was a difficult and frustrating game to witness and Mourinho too lost his cool on the touchline with one of his assistants during the half time over a tactical misunderstanding.
“You know set pieces, organisation… they changed their team before the game and Paul was a bit confused with the changes.
“And obviously I want my assistants to care of all the details.”
Towards the end, Mourinho shed some light on the injuries and readiness of his squad and had some good news for the United fans.
“Let’s see tomorrow [about injuries], but normally yes, normally we have almost everyone in a condition to play. Of course, Phil Jones has a long-term injury.”
When talking about the next game, the manager made it clear that the position of the team in the table doesn’t matter but the team itself does.
“It will be a very difficult match [against Stoke], the truth is not where they are in the table; they have a good team and a good manager. I don’t look at the table, I look at their quality.”
That’s three points in the bag then and now United should be focussing on the next Premier League game, as Mourinho suggested. It is important to win the game not just to keep up with the leaders but to also maintain the momentum that last game’s win brought about. After the Stoke game, players will go away on international duties and will have a very tough return to the club football with Liverpool, Fenerbahce, Manchester City and Chelsea waiting on the other side. It seems like an exciting month of football and United should be looking to start it in the right way, by bagging all the three points.