Old Trafford played host to Derby County Friday evening as Manchester United face their first FA Cup challenge of the season. The Rams traveled to Manchester in a strong run of form; undefeated in their last seven matches. However, the Red Devils proved too big a hurdle for the Championship side and emerged victorious, 2-0. These are the main five talking points from the match.
Five talking points from Manchester United vs. Derby
Mourinho leaving nothing to chance
The busy festive period wasn’t kind to Manchester United. They drew three consecutive Premier League games and crashed out of Carabao Cup to Bristol City. A string of poor performances left Jose Mourinho on the hot seat.
Therefore, with 10 days rest before a visit from Stoke City, Mourinho elected to play many big name players. Paul Pogba captained the side and was joined in attack by Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. When the first half proved fruitless, Mourinho introduced Romelu Lukaku for Mkhitaryan; who was lackluster once again. The Belgian was soon followed by Anthony Martial as Mourinho was looking to avoid a replay.
A team of such strength, coupled with very attacking substitutions, were statements of intent from Mourinho. Manchester United can still win trophies this year; Manchester United aren’t afraid to play attacking football.
Victor Lindelof shouldn’t play right back
When questioned about Manchester United’s full back situation prior to the season, Mourinho responded, “Victor can play right back and can play centre midfield.” While this may be true, his capability to play the role doesn’t necessarily mean that he should.
While Lindelof is certainly a quality player and wasn’t poor against Derby, his style of play certainly affected Manchester United’s overall game. In attack, Lindelof plays right back as he would centre half. An excellent ball-player, he excels when he can see all passing options in front of him. This lead to him rarely opening up to attack the right wing and frequently taking his first touch back inside upon receiving the ball. While he seldom was dispossessed, his tendency to move centrally limited wing-based build up play to the left flank.
Defensively, Lindelof is a terrific reader of play. Due to this, his natural instincts are to defend from the inside, commanding the back four. This created some problems for Manchester United while transitioning to defense. Lindelof would naturally track back to the middle of the pitch, sending Chris Smalling out wide to square up the counter-attacking winger. While Derby couldn’t punish the Red Devils on the day, a stronger opponent would capitalize on the space created by defenders constantly switching.
New Year, same Jesse Lingard
One of Manchester United’s few bright spots through the holidays was the play of Jesse Lingard. The 24 year-old set the Premier League alight in December, scoring five and assisting one more of the Red Devils’ ten goals scored in the month. Inevitably, he picked up his first career Manchester United Player of Month award, receiving 85% of the fan vote.
The turn of the year hasn’t resulted in a dip in form for Lingard. He scored the second of two lovely curled goals on New Year’s day against Everton. Against Derby, it was Lingard once again who proved the difference. In a match where keeper Scott Carson was rolling back the years with some sensational stops, it would take something special to beat the former England international. Lingard received a bobbled layoff from Romelu Lukaku with a deft first touch and proceeded to lash a bullet of a half-volley into the far top corner. If Lingard can keep this form up, he should be an easy choice for England heading into the World Cup.
Lukaku’s physicality is essential
Manchester United dominated possession in the first half. They created chances and had terrific moments of interplay in front of Derby’s box. Yet they failed to penetrate a deep-lying Rams defense, and were physically outmatched on 50/50 balls; enter Romelu Lukaku.
The largest difference the Belgian made was to be another presence in the box on set pieces. Manchester United had a plethora of first half corners but frequently resorted to going short as Derby defenders only had to focus on Pogba and Smalling. Lukaku’s introduction demanded crosses; and he almost converted a corner midway through the second half. Lukaku would eventually get on the score-sheet by using his immense frame to barrel passed two Derby defenders and hold off a third while calmly slotting away.
A transfer showcase
Fresh off awarding four players contract extensions, Jose Mourinho gave starts to some depth players. A match against lower league opposition, early in the transfer window, could have provided opportunity for players who might be on their way out to impress. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was once again poor, being substituted at half – he may well be in his last season in Manchester. Daley Blind didn’t have a busy evening, yet was mostly solid when called upon. Juan Mata proved he still has some genius in his boots. The diminutive Spaniard, though substituted, initiated numerous attacks and was only denied a goal by a terrific Scott Carson save.
Mourinho has been quite candid about Manchester United’s summer plans. However, if money is to go out, money must come back in. Players uncertain about their Manchester United, or footballing future need to capitalize on their opportunities over the coming months.
Main Image Credit: