After such a great month in September, I was particularly looking forward to October with optimism. 4 out of the 6 games would be away from home, including a trip to White Hart Lane. This would be our first game of the month.
Looking at Spurs so far this season, they sit in 6th place but are yet to be tested. They have lost 2 games already, against Bournemouth and Southampton, while their other 4 games have resulted in wins against Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Watford and Swansea. You could argue that although they had already lost 2 games this season, that we were their first big test of the season. They tend to play in the same formation as we do at home, with 2 central midfielders and I decided to match them man for man and not play with DMs even though we were away from home. Martial was back to full fitness and therefore is restored to the side on the left wing.
Within 1 minute, we looked like we would carry our form over from the previous month when Ibrahimovic headed over from 5 yards. After that chance though, it was all Spurs. They were piling on the pressure on our goal and on the half hour mark the deadlock was broken. Kane picked up the ball on the edge and played a through ball past the defence which Eriksen raced onto, placing the ball into the net. We started to see more of the ball after the goal but could not create anything before the break. Immediately after the break, Ibra had another chance from 5 yards out but this time he hit the inside of the post before Lloris gratefully picked up the loose ball. The rest of the game petered out as Spurs were happy to sit back on the ball and we could just not find a way past them.
Disappointed with our first ever loss under my stewardship, I was eager to put it right but had to wait 13 days before our next fixture at Stoke, the 3rd of 4 away games on the bounce, due to the International break. During the break, it became apparent that we had a few players in the squad that were not happy. Although I felt I had been very fair with my rotation selection policy, Morgan Schneiderlin and Marcos Rojo were unhappy with the lack of playing time and wanted out from the club. This doesn’t bother me as we could do with the funds, and both of these positions were ones that I was looking to improve anyway.
Stoke have had a mixed bag start to the season with 3 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses in their 7 games, meaning they sit 8th in the table. I think they would be happy to finish there come the end of May. Bastian Schweinsteiger is banned after picking up too many yellow cards so Ander Herrera comes into the starting eleven as we elect to start with the CMs. I think we should be too much for the Potters. The two centre backs should be able to deal with Stoke’s two attackers in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
The whole of the first half belongs to Stoke. We do not get out of the traps and even struggle to leave our half at times. Just before half time, their dominance shows on the scoreline as Diouf sprints past our defence and smashes it past De Gea. I look on in disbelief and start to wonder whether September was a very lucky month and that we really were this bad. Our season could already be over before it’s really started. I have a go at the players at half time, which seems to do the trick but we still rarely trouble the Stoke keeper. Until the 65 minute that is, when Mkhitaryan places a through ball into the box which Ibra gets to before the keeper and strokes the ball into the net to draw us level. We batter the goal for the rest of the half but to no avail. We just cannot find a way through when the opposition goes defensive to hold on to a result. Joe Allen is dismissed just before the final whistle but does not affect the final score.
We play our 3rd game of the Europa League group stages against Mainz at their place. We have Leicester at home in 3 days and therefore I tinker with the squad again, and give a run out to some that haven’t seen much playing time so far this season. I fully expect our second string side to continue our dominance of this group.
8 minutes into the game and a familiar story is being played out. A ball is passed through our defence and the opposition attacker runs onto it and scores. I start thinking about replacing our centre back pairing for our next game. Back to the present however and we aren’t behind for long before Zlatan gets his head to a Mkhitaryan cross, leaving the keeper stranded in the middle of his box. This is where it all starts to go pear shaped though as Bastian Schweinsteiger is sent off for a crunching tackle on the half way line which didn’t need to be made. We still start to make chances though, as I believe that our opposition doesn’t actually realise that they now only face 10 men. If they didn’t realise before half time, then they definitely did afterwards, as they came out like they were the bigger and better team. They started peppering our goal and we had no answer for it. Both Rooney and Depay were taken off injured within minutes of each other and I start to worry about the squads for the upcoming games. We push and push for the winning goal with Ibrahimovic hitting the cross bar from close range, and Martial spooning the rebound over. This is punished by the next Mainz attack when they counter and a deep cross results in a free header which loops into the far corner. With only 8 minutes left of the game, we struggle to create anything and whimper to our first defeat in Europe.
We seriously need a win from somewhere. We need an easy game at home where we can start quickly and rest when the game has already been won. Instead, we get holders of the Premier League, Leicester City. At least the game will be played at Old Trafford. Leicester are below us in the table by one place but only 2 points. We really need this win, to push us closer to the top 4 and further away from the chasing pack. With all our players that can play up front seemingly injured, bar Zlatan, our bench is filled by young Josh Doughty who is the best of a bad bunch from the academy. Hopefully we won’t need him.
We are the better team for the first 20 minutes of the game with plenty of chances aimed towards the Leicester goal. This pressure tells when a long shot from Paul Pogba is palmed into his own net by stand in Leicester keeper Ron-Robert Zieler. This relieves some of the pressure hanging over my head. 5 minutes later, Pogba has his second of the game when a Mata corner is flicked on by Zlatan into the Frenchman’s path, who controls and then blasts in from around 10 yards. We get into the break leading by two goals and I tell the players to not be complacent. Everybody seems to become very nervous and I regret immediately the team talk. I should have listened to my assistant manager who told me to be quiet. The first 15 minutes after the restart were fairly boring but then De Gea was beaten in the air at a corner by Slimani who headed the ball across goal for Vardy to knock in. A couple of changes later including moving Martial to ST as Zlatan was looking tired, kicked us into gear again. Martial running at the defence gave room to Mkhitaryan who converted to the keeper’s near post. We managed to see the game out and get a much needed 3 points. The board is expecting us to win the title and we are currently 7 points off the top after 9 games. This form is likely to see the end of me at Old Trafford unless we can pick it up and quickly!
Our 4th and final away game of the month sees us travel to Oxford United in the EFL cup 4th round. You know the drill by now, it’s not a Premier League game and therefore you can expect to see a lot of fringe players get some game time. I opt to give Carrick and Fellaini their first starts of the season, and also play Valencia on the right wing instead of right back.
3 minutes in and our quality shows when Martial picks up the ball and fires a thunderblaster in from 25 yards. It was a great start to the game and we weren’t finished just yet. 5 minutes later it was 2-0 and this time it was a shot from Lingard which was deflected, resulting in an own goal. 15 minutes from half time and our lead was extended even further when a long cross from Daley Blind was met by the head of on rushing winger for the day, Antonio Valencia. Shortly after it was 4 when Lingard made sure that he ended up on the scoresheet with a lovely finish, curling in from just outside the area. This may have only been the 30th minute but the game was over and everyone knew it. Even the players did not seem to try too hard in the second half, as substitutions were made to keep everyone fresh. The game ended at 4-0 and I was just happy to be in the hat for the next round, which was a home tie against Leeds United. This was a good draw, with teams like Man City and Chelsea getting drawn against each other.
The last game of the month saw our Noisy Neighbours come into the Theatre of Dreams, in my first ever Manchester derby. I was happy that it was at home first as I was starting to not enjoy losing on the road. We started with the DMs, looking to not make the same mistake as the Spurs game. Even though Bastian was back from suspension, I decided to leave Carrick in from the midweek game. I hoped that his experience would show through. City themselves were 2nd in the table, with their only loss coming from Liverpool, were runaway unbeaten leaders currently.
The eagle eyed among you will notice a glaring error that I made in the starting line up. I didn’t fully check that I had made all the changes from the EFL game and this meant that SERGIO ROMERO WAS PLAYING IN GOAL. Arguably our biggest game of the season and I had left David De Gea on the bench!
For the first 15 minutes of the game, it was all City and actually Romero had pulled off a couple of good saves. Mata then places an exquisite through ball to Mkhitaryan who dispatches first time past Claudio Bravo. We were 1-0 up! The rest of the half was mostly City but they didn’t really create many clear cut chances. We managed to create one more chance on the stroke of half time which was some intricate play from Martial, Ibra and Mkhi, before the latter put another shot past Bravo in the City goal to make us 2-0 up! This time I listen to my assistant manager and remind the players that this sort of game is all about the fans and they respond well. We invite City on to us and try to hit them on the counter. I bring Lingard on for Martial around 65 minutes gone, and 3 minutes later Lingard needs to come off again. I seriously cannot deal with any more injuries to my players! City turned on the heat for the rest of the game but we stood up to everything, and finished a crazy month with a win in the Manchester derby!
My buoyant mood at beating City is soon brought crashing back to earth however, when I learn that Lingard is to be out for 4 months!! He has damaged his Achilles tendon and I can’t expect to see him until much closer to the end of the season.
That concludes a rollercoaster October at Manchester United. The board are not happy with the position that we are in the table however they are very pleased with the victory over our rivals. We need to make sure that we don’t have another start to a month like this one. The good news is though, that we are still fighting on all fronts, just slightly further back in the Premier League than we would like to be at the current point.
Join us next week for the lowdown on what happened in November!
Thank you for reading and be sure to send any feedback to me on Twitter @Hatton90FM!