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September Takeaways: Lessons from a busy month

Two months into the season and Manchester United have passed every test that has come their way. A 4-0 home win over bottom dwellers Crystal Palace mean United finish the month of September tied atop the Premier League with cross town rivals Manchester City. While many of United’s most challenging fixtures await in the coming months, playing seven matches in a one month period offers its own challenges. Having nearly aced every test thus far, here are three important takeaways from United’s September fixtures.

Fellaini and Herrera should rotate in Pogba’s absence

One of Jose Mourinho’s strongest traits as a manager is his ability to highlight an opponent’s weakness and then set up his team to exploit that weakness. While this may seem obvious, it is a strategy the likes of Arsene Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, and Pep Guardiola choose not to deploy. While there is something admirable in an idealist, it is hard to argue with the trophy cabinet of Mourinho the pragmatist. Even before Paul Pogba went down with an injury, United fans were already clamoring for fan favorite Ander Herrera to see more time. While Mourinho often opted for Marouane Fellaini off the bench. When the Frenchman went down, the choice to continue with Fellaini alongside Nemanja Matic was bitter pill for many supporters to swallow. However, it is hard to argue with the outcomes.

Mourinho strategy of rotating the two has been a stroke of genius. Each player brings their own unique skill sets to the table and certain matchups may require different abilities. Mourinho’s use of Fellaini as a target midfielder against smaller sides has worked to devastating effect. In the league, the Belgium has scored three goals. That is more than Dele Ali, Gareth Bale, and Antoine Griezmann. His size has proved a vital outlet in transitioning from defense to attack and he defends well on set pieces. Herrera, on the other hand, offers United quick ball pressing and more cultured passing in midfield. Against CSKA Moscow, it was nearly impossible for the Russian side to build an attack with the likes of Herrera and Matic hassling attackers off the ball. More likely to set up a goal than score one, Herrera’s value is still very high.

Like many others, I prefer to watch aesthetically pleasing football and there is no doubt which midfielder is more pleasing on the eye. However, you can’t really argue with the way Mourinho has used the two players so far.

Mourinho’s competition strategy is working

Danny Blind, an Ajax legend and father of Daley Blind, recently explained that Mourinho has a core group of six players, David de Gea, Antonio Valencia, Matic, Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Romelu Lukaku, while the rest of United’s players fight for the remaining five starting spots. Blind, Ashley Young and Luke Shaw have been rotating at left back, while Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford continue to be rotated on the left-wing. While Eric Bailly and Phil Jones appear to be the first choice central defensive pairing, their backups are well aware of the latter’s injury history. What Mourinho has created through this competition model, is a group of hungry players desperate to prove themselves. No matter the match you can fully expect each and every player to give it their all.

Perhaps the best example of this is the battle between Rashford and Martial, a subject I have written about before. Given Mourinho’s motivational tactics, it should come as no surprise that both players have been devastating in both starting roles and off the bench. If Rashford comes off in the 75th minute, then Martial is ready to come on and use those last fifteen minutes to prove he should be playing more. This sense of competition has permeated the entire squad and while the hectic schedule is never easy, it has given those on the fringe a chance to prove themselves. This will only bode well for United throughout a long season where they will be fighting on multiple fronts. Injuries will happen and suspensions are inevitable. Mourinho can sleep well at night knowing what he can expect from those on the outskirts of the first choice eleven.

United’s attack remains a deadly force

In the month of August, Manchester United outscored their opponents 11-3 in four matches. While many wrote that off as a lucky start, nobody told United’s attackers. In September, the goals continued to flow as they outscored their opponents 22-4. Averaging over three goals a game and scoring four goals four times in the month. Perhaps the most pleasing part of United’s return to an attacking powerhouse is that the goals are coming from all over the pitch. So far this season, six different United players have scored more than three goals and nine players have scored overall.

Not to be outdone, the creators are just as diverse. Seven different United players have three or more assists across all competitions. Which is an incredibly encouraging statistic for a side that has often relied on one or two creators. Both Ashley Young and Daley Blind have been creating chances in the fullback position and Jesse Lingard has been adding creative value off the bench and in rare starts. The marriage of youth and experience has working out perfectly and United fans should be expecting more of the same in the coming months.

In Manchester United’s competitive matchups so far this season they have only dropped one point. A remarkable achievement, but not out of the ordinary for Jose Mourinho’s best sides. A strong start is key to a true title challenge. With the month of October having arrived, United’s biggest test of the season awaits. However, if September and August are any indicator, then Liverpool and all those who stand in United’s way don’t stand a chance.

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