The manner of Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Leicester surely spells the end for Wayne Rooney, while the brilliance of Paul Pogba and Leicester’s fragile defence are also discussed.
There’s no way back for Rooney now
It may have come as little surprise, but Mourinho’s decision to drop Wayne Rooney from the starting line-up was still the headline news ahead of kick-off at Old Trafford today.
Mourinho spoke in the build-up to the match how criticism of the United skipper had affected his confidence, so taking him out the firing line probably made perfect sense for all concerned.
“Deep down, he will know exactly that’s what he deserves,” Graeme Souness said on Sky Sports in the build-up.
But was Mourinho’s decision to drop the player to the bench a tactical one, or the media influencing the Portuguese’s coaches hand? It’s an answer we’ll probably never know, but with United claiming a 4-1 win, it looks like a decision very much vindicated.
Rooney looked relaxed and jovial before the match (insert joke here about how it’s easy to smile when you earn £250k a week) and moving out of the spotlight could prove, in the long term, the best solution to both club and player. I, for one, would still back him to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing goalscoring record for the club this season and, being the squad game that football is these days, his chance in the side will come again.
This isn’t a dig at the player himself, and nor should it sour the records he has already and will, most likely continue to break for the club.
But you cannot ignore the bloody obvious: Manchester United without Wayne Rooney in the side are simply a far better team.
After a tentative opening 20 minutes, Chris Smalling’s opener helped settle the nerves before United put the game to bed prior to the interval with three more quick-fire goals.
But while plenty will be purring about their display, you can’t help but wonder where Rooney’s next start for the club will come.
Gary Neville, speaking of the media scrutiny Manchester United find themselves under, said: “United are always one defeat away from black clouds, but win four or five on the trot and it’s the sunshine again.” While true, there’s no doubting their chances of sunny spells could rest on Rooney’s continued absence from the side.
Herrera role still leaves questions to answer
The decision to play Ander Herrera in a deep midfield role in preference of the axed Marouane Fellaini beforehand certainly raised more than a few eyebrows before kick-off. And in spite of Manchester United’s victory, there are still questions to answer for Mourinho.
Admittedly, it’s hard to pick fault in a side that has just strolled to such a comfortable victory, but there’s always that nagging doubt that against the better sides in this league (sorry Leicester, that’s no longer you and last season is looking even more an anomaly now than ever before) that lack of midfield screening could be exploited.
It’s not that either Herrera or Paul Pogba alongside him (more on him later) had a bad game against the champions. And there’s many that will point out that Herrera’s inclusion allowed Pogba the space and freedom to find some form at last.
And I certainly don’t want to pour the proverbial on Manchester United’s bonfire, but Herrera cannot be relied on to shield the Manchester United defence and more than Pogba can.
I appreciate positions on a football field are not set in stone and positions evolve as play does, but with the pair forced to share the role of shielding the defence – a role neither does especially well either – we’re once again looking at yet another case of square pegs in round holes in the United midfield.
Make no mistake: better teams will take advantage of Herrera in this position. And had Leicester scored the goal their early dominance had deserved, might we have seen a different outcome….?
But while the team are picking up 4-1 wins, I accept this argument is likely to fall on deaf ears….
Pogba at his most delicious best
He’s had his fair share of critics since his world-record arrival at Manchester United, and that’s to be expected when you come at a cost of £89million. But following the stroll over Leicester – and with a goal to boot – fans will be left purring by the brilliance of Paul Pogba.
Jamie Carragher said of the player: “It’s been by far his best performance for Manchester United. What he’s done with the ball today has been outstanding.”
It is impossible to disagree: The was Pogba at his most delicious best, scoring with a well-directed header and picking out some team-mates with some lovely passes. It seems when he plays to his best, so too do Manchester United.
Remarkably, given their dominance for so many years, this was the first time the Red Devils had gone in at half-time 4-0 up in a Premier League match since a 2001 victory against Arsenal.
And again the summarisers were bang on the money: “It feels like the first time in years Manchester United have steamrollered a team; floored their opponent before half-time,” said Gary Neville.
A sign of things to come?…..
Leicester defensive struggles a surprise
As good as Manchester United were in that 15-minute spell at the end of the first half, it was hard to not be surprised by Leicester’s defensive frailties, especially given the back-four unit was the the bedrock on which their title success was built on last season.
Leicester have now lost as many league games this season as they did in the whole of their title-winning campaign last time – and there’s no doubting where the weakness lies.
With three of United’s goals coming from corners – and left-wing ones at that – have United found a chink in the Foxes armour that other sides rarely penetrated last season? Or was this simply a team being caught off guard and simply on the wrong end of a team in full motion?
Either way, Claudio Ranieri will be keen to address these issues before their second Champions League test, this time against one of Mourinho’s former clubs, Porto.