Red Thoughts: Swansea verdict, Zlatan’s return + Rashford’s scoring boots

by Red Debate

BETS: Another good game against Swansea, but why did we look so much better in the second half?

REX: Well, Swansea are no pushovers, especially at the Liberty stadium. So it didn’t surprise me that we weren’t running them off the field. Even during the Fergie era, it used to be a 1-0 win or at best 2-1 and sometimes being completely outplayed as well. But this time we were in control the entire time, against a solid team defensively. Their manager had them set up to nullify our counters, which is what we fed on against West Ham. I think he overloaded the midfield to where ours didn’t get a chance to open them up. So no balls out wide or through the middle. And just as half time approached, we got one off a set piece.

In the second half they kept their shape up until late, where they decided to go and try to get something out of the game. They were toast then! We’re now officially devastating on counters – Martial, Mkhi, Pogba and Lukaku running at you is something to watch out for, I love it!

DAN: I think the second half was much better because we got the goal. You could see the boys getting frustrated, but in the 2nd half we came out relaxed. Swansea had to slowly come out and play. But I do agree with the criticism on Match of the Day about the full backs not exploiting the space which is created by Rashford and Mata coming inside. Apart from that, I thought it was a good away performance. We controlled the game and took the chances we created against a well drilled Swansea side.

CARL:​ The pinning back of the full-backs and inverted wingers was entirely done on purpose. Mata playing inside is a tactical ploy to provide an extra body in more central areas where Swansea had set up to try and outnumber us. Mourinho is fully aware that Mata cuts inside and he’s not looking at that as a flaw, it’s actually one of the primary reasons he was playing. Jenas’ Match of the Day analysis was a case of over-analytical nonsense. United were 1-0 up when Jenas decided to use his little example of how the fullbacks were not moving into the wide space. So why would United overcommit their full backs and risk getting caught on the break in a game they were winning and that they’d been entirely comfortable in? With Swansea deep and compact, with Ayew and Abrahams as their attackers, there’s absolutely no doubt they were playing in the hope of something coming off on the counters anyway, so why open yourself up to potentially getting caught?

Mourinho goes over every match tactically with a fine toothcomb and the fact the full backs didn’t advance was because they were told not to. I suppose Jenas had to find something to pick at to try to sound clever, like he’d spotted an oversight by Jose, but his example was lame. The side of the pitch he’s highlighted to show that the full back didn’t run on was Valencia’s side, and we all know Valencia is not averse to making advanced runs. When he isn’t, then you can bet it’s because he’s been specifically instructed not to. Jenas is making the mistake of thinking Jose plays exactly the same way and uses his players tactically in the same way from game to game. Naive. That’s why he’s sitting where he is and Jose is one of the greatest, most tactically accomplished managers the game has ever had.

DAN: Although I agree with what you are saying, there was an instance he highlighted Blind and the space he had in front, where Rashford, Mata. Lukaku and Mkhitaryan were all within the width of the 18 yard box. Surely Blind should have been more advanced, to pull players out of the space between Pogba and the front four? Little things like that could be the difference in big games. It is nitpicking, but if that’s the worst of our problems, we are laughing.

BETS: But they’re not wing backs in a back five, where there’s cover if they get caught up field – we have a back four.  If we’re playing 4-3-3, as we did most of last season, one of the CM’s can fall back to cover for the full back if he’s caught upfield. But in this 4-2-3-1 system, there has to be a bit more discipline and you can see that very clearly in Valencia’s play, which is definitely not as attacking in this formation. So I don’t see it as a valid issue.

I do prefer 4-2-3-1 for most games, but if that’s the way we’re going, does it mean Herrera, our player of the year, is condemned to playing a bit role this season?

EHSAAN: Herrera was only benched because we don’t need the extra midfielder against lesser teams. Mkhi’s attacking input is needed so that we can finish off the opposition, which we failed to do on many occasions last year. Herrera will be used when we play teams with immaculate midfielders, so that he can break them down.

CARL: Herrera will get plenty of games, but most likely against tougher opposition when Mourinho will require the security of an extra man in the middle rather than a No.10.

REX: There’s a lot of talent still on the bench or out completely. It looks bad for them now, but they’ll all get games soon enough. So I’m not worried, as long as we’re not entertaining bids for them. I was so happy to hear Mourinho turned down Valencia’s loan offer for Pereira. Herrera, Pereira, Fellaini and even Martial will get starts as soon as the season is in full swing. Right now, the team is performing, so I don’t expect to see a lot of changes. Just substitute appearances for the rest.

BETS: And of course with Zlatan to come as well. Will even he get in the team? Is it a good thing he’s coming?

DAN: I’d explain to Zlatan that he’s back up to Lukaku. We need options and Zlatan is an amazing option to have coming off the bench or starting to rest Lukaku. Plus, his professional attitude and the knowledge he can pass onto the lads is great. It would be far too easy to look at the start of the season and think great, we have smashed it. You can always improve.

DEAN: His experience and leadership on/off the pitch is priceless. Plus, Lukaku is still improving and learning from Zlatan will only benefit his game. Like Dan​ mentioned, he would be back up, and with United playing a lot of fixtures, bringing back Zlatan can only improve our season.

RICK: Zlatan must understand that he’s not going to be first choice striker and that role is Lukaku’s. He’s started brilliantly and long may his scoring run continue. Zlatan will only come back from injury in January, which would be a massive boost, not only to the dressing room, but it will provide some fresh legs for the second half of the season (the business end) where we will need everyone fresh and firing. That will give Jose the opportunity to rest Lukaku in the odd game, so he can be fresh for the important ones. Lukaku can also learn some much needed holdup play from Zlatan, who himself can provide it when we just need to kill off a game.

BETS: I’m worried it might unsettle things. Why is the team clearly so much happier, and expressing itself so much more freely, and playing so much more as a team than they did last year? Could it be that Zlatan was so respected that the rest of the team deferred to him too much? Like he’s the much older brother that commands your respect? We saw how the Portugal team seemed to play so much better without Ronaldo in Euro 16. It could be a case of “it’s MY responsibility now, it’s up to ME now”. Just a thought.

Another reason for my doubt is Rashford. When he first burst onto the scene, he never seemed to miss the target. Nowadays, he couldn’t hit a barn door at three paces. That chip against Swansea was terrible. But the rest of his game, and his physicality, have improved immensely. So is he a great goalscorer who’s having a drought? Or is he not your natural goalscorer?  If he’s not going to find the back of the net on a regular basis, we will need a backup to Lukaku, and they don’t come any better than Zlatan. But if between now and January, Rashford finds his scoring boots, and is banging them in for fun like he used to, I think he would be a fresher, faster and more versatile plan B.

My other concern is will Zlatan be happy as a super sub? He is probably the most arrogant footballer we’ve ever seen, so will his ego cope with that role? And if José tries to play him in the hole behind Lukaku, I don’t fancy that at all, because we need to be fluid across those forward positions, and for me he’s not mobile enough to switch around as we see from Mkhi, Mata, Rashy and co. and which makes us hard to play.

CARL:​​​ Rashford used to miss a lot of chances when he was in the Academy too, he’s not the most clinical of finishers, to say the least. He did explode onto the scene and put away chance after chance for a while, but that was out of the norm for him, I don’t know where that came from, but it was just a spell. Before that period and since it, Rashford wasn’t and still isn’t the best of finishers.

DAN: I think it’s showing why he was playing wide in the youth set up – his finishing is a little hit and miss. I think he needs to study Andy Cole and Ruud for tips on 1 on 1 finishing. If you look at the difference between Pogba’s chip and Rashford’s, Pogba opens his body up, gives himself two options to let the keeper make his move and scoops it over, whereas Marcus doesn’t and digs at it, as if he has no choice.

REX:  I’ve said here previously, I love the kid, but his finishing at the moment lets him down. If you take Martial’s effectiveness in front of goal and final third and combine it with Rashford’s grit, determination and work rate, you’d have the perfect winger. As it stands, it’s one or the other and I suppose this works – where Rashford starts and runs them ragged and Martial comes in and finishes them off. ‘You line ‘em up Marcus, and I’ll knock ‘em down! I just hope we’re not making another Welbeck, where he can do everything but finish.

RICK: Don’t compare Welbeck to Rashford please! Welbeck has horrendous ball control and little to no skills with the ball at his feet. He also can’t take on and beat players. So Rashford is way better already.

BETS: I do believe that Rashford has it in him to be clinical. Which, for me, makes it psychological rather than a lack of poacher’s instinct, which I think is Welbeck’s problem.

DAN: It’s all down to mentality – it’s the same for every position, it’s what he does from here which will make or break the lad. He’s doing everything else right.

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