Manchester United returned to winning ways against Huddersfield at home, with second-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez sealing the win. A goalless first half had the United faithful a little on edge; however, a sharp finish from Lukaku and Sanchez’s first goal for the club, on the rebound from his missed penalty, meant that United restored their six point cushion over Chelsea and Liverpool.
Here are some of the major talking points from the game –
Pogba “rested”, McTominay takes his chance
Old Trafford bristled with surprise when the team was announced an hour before kickoff, as Paul Pogba was dropped to the bench, with youngster Scott McTominay given a place instead. Many observers felt that this was a result of Pogba’s performance, or complete lack of it, against Tottenham, with Mourinho making the point to the Frenchman that nobody is undroppable in his team. McTominay had solid, if unspectacular outing, neat and tidy with his passing, and providing much more support to Nemanja Matic than Pogba does. He was fouled three times by Huddersfield players in the opening half hour, all of which should have been bookings; the first of them, by Terence Kongolo, was a clear penalty but referee Stuart Atwell was unmoved. It seemed as if Huddersfield were targeting the youngster; if so, he was supremely unfazed, calm and composed on the ball. He raised his game, as did the entire United side, after the break, showing more ambition with his movement and passing and trying to increase the tempo of United’s passing. McTominay’s display bodes well; he just needs to increase the ambition of his passing, but his preference to play conservatively can be understandable at this stage of his career. Pogba did get 25 minutes or so on the pitch, and went from box to box throughout his time in the game, as if trying to show Mourinho that his decision was not justified. Nevertheless, Mourinho’s gamble paid off; Pogba got a bit of a rest, McTominay got crucial minutes on the pitch, and United picked up a routine win.
Sanchez nets his first goal
Alexis Sanchez was a flurry of movement and running from kickoff, looking every inch like the game-changing player he has been for Arsenal since arriving in England. As is his wont, he was only nominally playing on the left, preferring to charge infield with and without the ball, which did allow Luke Shaw acres of space to bomb into as well. All of his passes did not come off, but his ambition to make something was notable. Sanchez does tend to give the ball away, both through his head-down dribbling style as well as a touch of over-ambition with his passes, but it is well worth the trouble, as the Chilean possesses the talent to unlock the most persistent of defences through either of these methods. United were in the lead when a good move featuring Pogba, Lukaku and Sanchez ended in United’s newest #7 being felled in the box for a penalty. Sanchez strode up to take it himself, and although it was saved, he tucked the rebound into the net to celebrate his first United goal, in front of the Stretford End. It has been a superb start to life at the club for Sanchez, and the hope is that he maintains these levels as the Champions League returns.
United need a centre-back in the summer
This may seem like overcompensation, given that the club already have five specialist centre-backs at the club, plus Daley Blind, and the on-loan duo of Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. However, depth in numbers does not make up for lack of quality, and in the absence of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly, the two best centre-backs at the club, United’s defence was tentative even against opponents as unambitious as Huddersfield. While Marcos Rojo was competent, passing out well from the back and contributing to build-up play, the Argentinian always looks as if he has a mistake in him, and the rashness of his play can sometimes leave him out of position, and the defence exposed. Chris Smalling, on the other hand, gets bullied far too easily despite his physical presence, and Laurent Depoitre did so on the few occasions he clashed with the Englishman. Smalling is also limited with the ball at his feet, and is an obvious target for teams to press. United may not have faced a shot on target during this game, but that owes much to Matic and McTominay’s screening job, as well as Huddersfield’s reactive tactics, and United need an upgrade at the back if they are to seriously challenge for the major trophies next season.