Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw; McTominay, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Sanchez; Lukaku
Huddersfield Town (3-4-3): Lossl; Zanka, Schindler, Kongolo; Smith, Hogg, Billing, Hadergjonaj; Quaner, van la Parra, Depoitre
Jose Mourinho sprung a surprise by dropping Paul Pogba to the bench, on account of his poor performance against Spurs in midweek. Scott McTominay took his place, while Anthony Martial was also replaced by Juan Mata. Phil Jones missed out completely due to illness, while Ashley Young was replaced by Luke Shaw at left-back. Alexis Sanchez made his home debut for United.
David Wagner played with three centre-backs for the second game in a row. Tommy Smith resumed duties at right-back, which meant Florent Hadergjonaj moved over to the left, while Aaron Mooy, who so tormented United in their loss at the John Smith’s Stadium earlier this season, was on the bench, alongside Steve Mounie.
Major tactical themes:
Huddersfield frustrate United
From the start, it was evident that Huddersfield were looking to sit deep and deny space to United. Their lineup bore this out: David Wagner started with three centre-backs, while omitting his most creative midfielder. The two wide forwards, Quaner and van la Parra, would retreat into midfield when United had possession, with the effect that Matic and McTominay had lots of space and time on the ball.
This, perhaps, was the perfect game for Paul Pogba; United were crying out for his vision and his dribbling ability during the first half. Scott McTominay was understandably cautious with his passing, which meant that United lacked a deep-lying player capable of playing perceptive passes into their attack. Instead, the ball kept being moved wide to the fullbacks, from where it would invariably end up back in Huddersfield’s possession. Michael Carrick would have been a perfect fit for this game as well; in the event, McTominay acquitted himself well, but his, and United’s general lack of ambition could have cost them dearly.
Sanchez roaming is United’s biggest threat
Alexis Sanchez looks to have settled well into United’s lineup, and capped off his performance here with a goal as well. The Chilean has started on the left on all three of his appearances so far, but as is his want, that is rarely where he stays during the game. Sanchez was given license to drift inside to find pockets of space, and his positioning was problematic for Huddersfield throughout the game.
He was also always looking for the killer pass, which did lead to United losing possession on occasion; however, in a side without Paul Pogba, it was sorely needed. Often, Sanchez would be the one attempting a through ball to the likes of Lingard and Lukaku from central areas, which would ordinarily have been Pogba’s domain. Sanchez linked up well with Pogba when he came on too, while his roaming allowed Luke Shaw to bomb forward when he could from left-back. The Chilean’s energy and creativity look to have sparked United’s attack, and it looks like he will be integral to any success United have this season.
Lukaku quietly effective yet again
Amidst all the hoopla around the likes of Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane this season, Romelu Lukaku’s (relative) lack of goals has seen him being ridiculed by fans of rival clubs. However, as Mourinho has been at pains to point out on multiple occasions this season, Lukaku brings a lot more than just goals to the side. His link-up play has improved visibly over the course of this season, and this game was one of his better ones in terms of how he dovetailed with the players behind him. He was constantly on the move, pulling to the left and right to drag his markers out of position, which was creating room for the likes of Sanchez and Lingard to exploit. Both Mata and Sanchez’s tendency to come inside meant that a player would need to make the opposite run out wide to avoid crowding the middle, and it would invariably be Lukaku making the unselfish run out wide. He did get a goal with a smart finish from Mata’s left-wing cross, but this game was about the Belgian’s work off the ball, and it was quite excellent.