A win is a win in what was a huge game for United. The game versus spurs was a pretty dull affair in truth, with the defensive strengths of both sides on top but then again the attacking threat from both sides was very poor so defences did not have to work too hard. Mourinho decided to set up like for like and play 3 at the back, a formation United rarely play and for most of Saturday lunchtime that showed. Spurs were poor but they built attacks with the passing and fluidity that is needed when playing a 3-4-3, whereas United opted for a 3-4-1-2 but just didn’t seem to have a clue how to attack other than lump it into the channels in the hope the pace of Rashford or strength of Lukaku would be enough to continue the attack. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was once again a loose end, hardly impacting the game at all and was eventually taken off for the running and energy of Jesse Lingard. It seems a long time since Mkhitaryan had all those assists at the start of the season and his place must be in doubt.
However, it was another clean sheet, a win against one of their title rivals and crucially the gap remains at 5 points to City. But United have to go again this weekend when they travel to Chelsea. The Benfica Champions League game was not ideal in between but they were so poor 2 weeks ago that Mourinho knew he could rotate enough to still pick up the 3 points to advance through the group, which is exactly what happened. The other positive is that Chelsea’s trip and defeat to Roma where they were at full strength, would have further hit the confidence of the Champions. You would think that the trip to Rome would have taken more out of them than the United game at home so come Sunday this could be a big factor. Chelsea have a few injury problems themselves and I am in agreement with those who think Chelsea do not quite feel like a club in complete harmony. However, I expect Mourinho to set his team up either in a 3 at the back once more or at the very least set up to defend and hit on the break like he wanted to do at Anfield and we all know how that turned out. I remain on the fence with Mourinho, especially following some of his comments this week regarding the fans and their support of Lukaku. Mourinho can say what he likes, but the big Belgian was pretty average last Saturday, other than 2 big moments when he hit the post and set up the goal and that was a hopeful flick. But the fans are quite right to get frustrated at him when Marcus Rashford gives his absolute all for the side, runs the channels, runs after lost causes, tries to make things happen and Lukaku only springs into life once the ball is near or with him, he did the same on Tuesday. To then see Rashford dragged off for Martial, but because the Lukaku and Martial combination secured the 3 points, Mourinho will take that as a masterstroke and a sign to the fans that he knows what he is doing. Don’t get me wrong, I understand his thinking with the substitution, as he is a much bigger target and handful than the Martial, Rashford combination, but Mourinho should have appreciated the fans reasoning for their jeers rather than once again causing potential tension. I’m fully expecting another dull game on Sunday but Mourinho will not care if 3 points are taken or maybe would even settle for a point.
Can Arsenal do United a favour?
Before United visit Stamford Bridge there is another big game when Arsenal travel to the Etihad to take on the league leaders. Both recorded expected victories last weekend and this will no doubt be a much better game to watch than that in London. City continue to look class going forward but like Chelsea had a difficult away trip to Italy, where they were once again brilliant in defeating a high-flying Napoli. This could, however, have a big impact on their players for Sunday, with Arsene Wenger able to field a reserve team on Thursday, United will certainly be hoping that is the case and Wenger’s men can pick up something to help close the gap a little. However, I don’t see it. Arsenal just about made it through Swansea at home and I don’t anticipate their defence being good enough to cope with the movement and swagger of this City side. With the tough Christmas period approaching Pep Guardiola will be looking to keep their 5 point advantage at the very least, if not extend it. I see nothing but 3 points for Pep’s team on Sunday but I am interested to see how the ever-increasing fixture list starts to impact on his team, especially if injuries begin to hit the squadron crucial areas like they are amongst the other top sides. It was around this time last season that they began to struggle and dropping points became a regular occurrence, time will tell if history will repeat itself this time around.
The other rivals
Of the other rivals, Liverpool travel to West Ham on Saturday afternoon and Spurs welcome Crystal Palace to Wembley. Liverpool did enough last week to break down Huddersfield without their creator in chief, Philippe Coutinho. They have had a tough start to the season, but Klopp will know they have faced 4 of the other top 5 teams already so he will be looking to make the most of the so say “easier” games the league has to offer. West Ham will be disappointed with the draw last weekend, letting slip a 2 goal lead at Palace, but they should still be taking a lot from the result against Spurs last week. Slaven Bilic is still very much under pressure to keep his job, but 3 points on Saturday will go a long way to keeping him in charge at the Olympic Stadium, at least until Christmas. I don’t see West Ham being in a relegation battle come the end of the season, they have too many good players for that to happen, but Bilic still looks to be confused about his best 11. I think this will be a tough game for Liverpool and can see Andy Carroll (if fit) having a big impact and to potentially haunt his former club. I would say Liverpool were already out of the title equation, but any more defeats would definitely mean that concentration turns to top 4 and the FA Cup.
Palace recorded an unexpected win against Chelsea and picked up an unlikely point last weekend, so the confidence in the club looks to be on the up. But, the last place they would want to go next is Spurs, who will be bouncing off the back of their result against Real Madrid. It was a terrific performance and Mauricio Pochettino looks to have a really strong squad at his disposal at the moment, able to rest and rotate without really changing the strength of the side. Only really Harry Kane’s absence that hits them hard. He will need to keep their feet on the ground and head back on the task at hand on Saturday as it has been seen many times before, when a team record a great result and suffer a little hangover in the next game, falling to a side they should be beating comfortably. I fully believe they will win, with the Wembley jinx well and truly forgotten, the West Ham cup defeat and last weekend’s performance out of the system, they should win by 3 or 4 goals. For Palace, they just have to try and get something out of these games and then concentrate on the games against those around them. Although they are rock bottom, I am confident they will beat the drop, they have a much better squad than most down the bottom and for all of Roy Hodgson’s limitations at international level, I think he will eventually tighten them up and has the attacking threat to score goals.
It is a huge weekend for the title, even at this early stage. City have the chance to pile on the pressure on United by winning the early game on Sunday, as they will be 8 points ahead with United travelling to their bogey ground. Mourinho will need to keep the pressure up as much as possible and hope for a drop in form and results from Pep’s side.