United travelled to the John Smith’s stadium off the back of two poor performances, the draw against Liverpool and a tight win away in Lisbon. They could do with an improved performance to restart their season. As it turned out, United were dreadful, blunt upfront with stupid individual errors costing them dearly.
After several poor performances, United finally dropped Henrikh Mkhitaryan, replacing him with Jesse Lingard. Phil Jones returned to centre back with Smalling alongside him. Young was restored to left wing back, Martial and Mata were chosen on each flank. Huddersfield started with Depoitre up front and Aaron Mooy in midfield.
United started off keeping the ball at a low tempo, lots of sideways passes and attempting to wait for gaps. They had an early chance through a chipped through ball over the defence to Lukaku, who pulled it down and got a weak shot off that was pushed away.
Soon after, Martial was attempting to dribble through the centre but was pulled back by Smith. They then had a mild disagreement that resulted in them squaring up and going literally head to head. The referee rushed over to calm the situation down and booked the pair of them. It was later shown that Martial had flicked out a foot at Smith after a tackle on the touchline. The whole thing was very harmless and undignified.
Twenty minutes in, when making a saving tackle, Jones injured himself and was forced to come off. Victor Lindelof was chosen to replace him, which seemed a gamble at the time. Lindelof has been slowly introduced into the team, deemed not yet ready for the pace and physicality of the Premier League. Blind was on the bench and has shown in the past he is very capable playing centre back. The Dutchman might have been a safer option in such an atmosphere.
In the first half hour, there were barely any chances from either side. Huddersfield were sat very deep and United were struggling to move the ball from the centre circle into their opponents half. Other than Lingard, the three attacking midfielders were too static. He was very bright in the early exchanges, finding lots of gaps and playing quick one-twos with Lukaku.
Mata had started to come inside and much deeper in an attempt to get more involved in the play. Unfortunately, this movement caused Huddersfield’s first goal. A poor first touch from the Spaniard gifted the ball to Aaron Mooy who shoved past and ran clear into the United half. Lindelof dropped off rather than press, which left a huge green space for the Aussie to surge into. He held the ball up before laying it off to the onrushing Ince. Ince managed to spin Lindelof round before taking a shot at goal. De Gea stood up and blocked it away, only for Mooy to put it into the open goal on the rebound. It was an appalling goal to concede and effectively came from nowhere.
Huddersfield were now cramming the space in front of their back four. United were pushing up but were still unable to muster a shot on goal. However, things were about to get worse. Huddersfield punted a ball into the United third. It looked easy to deal with, but rather than come and meet it, Lindelof leaned his head timidly towards it. The result was the ball bouncing past him and Depoitre rounding De Gea and slotting it home. We wondered why Lindelof has not been risked in the league; now we know. Not only does he seem not physically up for the fight, but his positioning and decision making also appear to be poor. How he has gone from a good prospect to someone so unreliable simply by moving countries is anyone’s guess.
United were now in trouble. They hadn’t caused Huddersfield any trouble all game and through two individual errors found themselves two-nil down. Things could’ve swung in their favour, when Herrera was bundled over in the penalty area by Kachunga, but the referee decided not to award a penalty. It seemed a strange decision and during the game, the officiating often seemed baffling. There was no consistency and quite often they seemed to slow the game down just to show their authority.
All in all, the first half was a terrible, lifeless performance. United needed a change. At halftime, Mourinho acted, hooking Martial and Mata for Rashford and Mkhitaryan. Clearly, the instruction was to begin an all-out attack. It also seemed to be a switch to a back three, with Herrera in the back line alongside Smalling and Lindelof. Valencia and Lingard were the wing-backs, Rashford and Lukaku were up front together.
However, it still took half an hour for United to have an attempt that forced a save. Before they’d even managed that, a Huddersfield cross found Depoitre with his back to goal on the six-yard line. But Valencia managed to hold him up and force him away from goal. United’s shot on target came from a Young cross that swung in towards the back post. Mkhitaryan managed to flick the ball goalwards, but it was an easy save for the goalkeeper.
The United goal finally arrived after good link-up play between the front two. Lukaku surged forward down the right-hand side towards the corner flag. He then turned back onto his left foot and curled a beautiful cross to the back post, where Rashford leapt and diverted it goal bound as he came back down to earth. He had been by far United’s best attacking player in this game, despite it not being one of his best performances. It’s quickly becoming apparent that Pogba aside, Rashford is United’s best all-rounder. He’s got everything. Maybe it’s time to permanently switch to a back three, to get both Rashford and Lukaku playing upfront together?
Huddersfield were now tiring, United had kept the ball for so long that the constant running was starting to take its toll. But United still failed to create opportunities. In a game where the defence is sat so deep and the middle is so congested, delivery becomes everything. Unfortunately, United were woefully below par all game.
The next meaningful attempt after the goal was in added time. A Mkhitaryan cross finally found a United player in acres of space at the back post. Depressingly, it fell to the worst possible player, Chris Smalling. Looking like a caveman trying to use a mobile phone, he dragged the ball towards goal, only for it to be blocked by Jorgensen. It would have been an undeserved equaliser.
There will be a long post-mortem after this game, assessing why United were so poor. Already there has been a discussion about their attitude and Mourinho is apparently flabbergasted at comments by Herrera. But questions surely have to be asked about the tactical approach of this United side. Not regarding the shape or the personnel but the overall ethos. This team is set up to be defensively strong first and an attacking unit second. When all the preparation is based on the solid shape and how to not lose, once they are behind it is tough to suddenly swap into a loose, free-flowing side. Even when this team has been tearing teams apart, it is largely on the counter-attack. We’ve seen what an attacking side looks like in Manchester, but it plays in blue and is comfortably top of the table.
This was a really poor performance. Yes, there is a large injury list and yes, Huddersfield only scored because of two individual errors. But the overall performance was so abject that this defeat is significant. United have a difficult set of fixtures coming up, so to drop points away at home to a team battling for survival is borderline catastrophic. Mourinho has to make some big decisions off the back of this game, or the season could quickly unravel and we will see his nastier side. Or this is all a blip and we’re overreacting. Please delete as appropriate.