Instead of lifting the gloom, Manchester United sunk deeper into it. The Red Devils earliest ‘must win’ game of the season went badly wrong and José Mourinho’s men lost to Tottenham 0-3 in front of their own fans at Old Trafford.
Never before had Mourinho seen one of his teams lose 3-0 in their own back yard, making Monday’s match his worst-ever home defeat. For the first time in his 18 year managerial career, Mourinho has lost two of his first three league games.
3-5-2 against Spurs saw some positives
After United’s insipid defeat to Brighton, the manager made his moves. In total, Mourinho made six changes to his starting line-up. Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were the three players substituted at the Amex Stadium, and none of them even made the squad against Tottenham.
The most unexpected drop was Eric Bailly, who started United’s first two matches of the season and who saw some positives in his partnership with Lindelof. Instead of them, Mourinho opted for a change both in formation and personnel.
United lined up in a very flexible 3-5-2 where the central defenders were Chris Smalling and Phil Jones despite the fact the two England internationals were outplayed last time at Wembley. The midfield was packed with the Matic-Fred-Pogba trio while Jesse Lingard was handed a free role behind Romelu Lukaku.
Mourinho provided another tactical surprise as he always does against better opponents. Ander Herrera played alongside Jones and Smalling as a central defender. The small Basque had only one task – to completely neutralize Pochettino’s side’s attacking potential. And he did it, Herrera was phenomenal in the first 45 minutes as was the rest of the team.
While United let only one shot toward De Gea (which came in the 40th minute), in attack they had 10 shots from which two tested Hugo Lloris. Seven shots came from inside Tottenham’s box and everything was going the Red Devils’ way.
But Lukaku missed a big chance, and inside seven minutes of the second half Herrera went from a hero to a zero.
You can’t blame the manager for Lukaku not scoring, but there were some positives in Manchester United’s 3-5-2 system on which they can and must rely in future. Harry Kane’s goal was a pure justification of him as a world-class striker when, on the opposite side, Phil Jones is not anywhere near the player nor talented prospect he was. Mourinho knows that, but I’m not sure if Ed Woodward is aware of this fact.
It was insane to expect United to bounce back after the first goal. All that negativity surrounding the club this summer, Mourinho’s hits towards the board and the demoralising defeat to Brighton all played a part.
It’s all about the full-backs nowadays
There is no need to point out what a significant role full-backs have in modern football. It’s enough to look at Pep Guardiola’s teams and see they have always relied on them in one way or another. From Dani Alves in the Barcelona days, to Philipp Lahm at Bayern and now Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker. In the past, especially in England, we saw fullbacks as integrated within the back four, but today this is not the case. Often those players now occupy exceptionally advanced areas higher up the pitch.
On Monday, we saw Mourinho giving his full-backs similar roles as Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia were bombing their flanks running up and down and dropping back as needed. The plan was to either get the ball to the wing then into a channel or to quickly switch the ball from one flank to another to stretch the play.
Overall, United found a lot of success in stretching Spurs’ shape and it was probably one of the highest intensity halves United have had under Mourinho. Twelve’s algorithm recognized that as Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia were among the top five performers in the match. It’s worth noting Shaw scored the most ‘Attack’ points, ahead of Fred and Valencia.
Next stop: Burnley
Burnley will be a tough nut to crack, but it’s certain Mourino and United don’t have any more room for error as their rivals slowly start to fade into the distance at the top of the table. Still, a six point margin doesn’t always mean a thing in the beginning of the season, but judging on what we saw from Liverpool, Tottenham and, perhaps, Manchester City, the Old Trafford-based side must be alarmed.
Burnley remain win-less after the first three weeks of the Premier League campaign and are placed in the danger zone at 18th place. Sean Dyche’s men held Southampton to a goalless draw in their league opener, before Watford and Fulham humiliated them with results of 1-3 and 2-4 respectively. It seems that earning a Europa League spot will do more harm than good to the Clarets, but they will hope to take advantage of the lean form the Red Devils are in.
On the other hand, Mourinho will eye this as an opportunity to get the team back to winning ways, but he will be wary of Burnley’s set piece and counter attacking threat. A glance at Burnley’s top 5 performers in the first three game weeks show’s only defenders and a midfielder who is mostly defence orientated.Burnley have enjoyed only one victory over United since 1968 and it came in 2009, but they got a crucial 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season, which proved to be the turning point for United’s Premier League title hopes.
Mourinho’s men will be favourites on Sunday at Turf Moor, but Dyche’s team will also be looking at their chances. United’s poor defensive performance against Spurs in the second half can prove vital for Burnley’s hopes if they manage to cash in properly.