Manchester United went in to the international break on the back of a dramatic win against Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle. Despite finding themselves 2-0 down with 20 minutes to go, goals from Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez sealed the three points.
Jose Mourinho could be pleased that his squad went in to the break on a high, rather than allowing any bad feelings to fester. This is especially important with the tough run they have ahead of them, starting with Chelsea on Saturday.
Mourinho has beaten Chelsea in both of the games he’s played against them at Old Trafford, but has lost every time he has faced them at Stamford Bridge with his current side.
The manager shouldn’t beat himself up too badly about this though, as United’s record away to Chelsea has been atrocious for years. Going back to 2002, United have won just one of the 16 league encounters between the two clubs at Stamford Bridge, and that came against nine men. They lost 10 of the remaining clashes, drawing five, which all in all spells an awful return, whether it was Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes or Louis van Gaal in the dugout.
United fans will be hoping that Mourinho re-introduces Mata in to the starting line-up with the hope he can make a similar impact against his former club as he did against Newcastle.
Coming off the bench for the hopeless Eric Bailly in the first half, Mata made a huge difference to the way United approached the game. As well as keeping possession and playing the ball forward, it was the Spaniard who scored the first goal that initiated the comeback.
Having performed well on free-kick duty during training that week, Mata took responsibility of the ball when the foul was awarded. He confidently stepped up and left Martin Dubravka with no chance. No time to celebrate, Mata lead his team back to the halfway line to start again.
That experience and coolness of thinking will be greatly appreciated for United’s trip to Stamford Bridge, a ground where he was hailed as a hero during the two-and-a-half seasons he spent there.
While it was Mourinho who sold Mata to United back in 2014, the Spaniard initially became a firm favourite for the manager at Old Trafford. However, this season his appearances have been more limited. His performance before the international break will have given Mourinho something to think about.
Another player to come forward from the wilderness against Newcastle was Martial. He was fined by the club after failing to inform them he wouldn’t be returning to the pre-season tour following the birth of his son. There has been no love lost between Mourinho and the young Frenchman.
Having played poorly in the few appearances afforded to him this season, showing only glimpses of what he’s capable of, Martial stepped up to the plate against the Geordies to draw his team level.
It was also he who was bursting in to the box when Mohamed Diame was left with little option but to bring him down, leading to Mata’s goal.
Five minutes later, he played a lovely one-two with Paul Pogba just inside the penalty area, then struck the ball through a sea of bodies to find the back of the net.
When Martial is playing with confidence, he’s capable of tearing even the greatest defenders apart, but that version of the player has been largely absent during Mourinho’s tenure. Even when he does go through spells of top form, the manager pulls him out of the starting team for seemingly no reason, which does little to help his momentum.
United fans will be hoping that Martial has earned the manager’s trust for the visit to Chelsea, where the moments of magic he creates could be the difference between them scoring and not.
The most important player for United though, as he has been too often during his time at the club, is David de Gea. He has been the difference between his team winning and losing on countless occasions and will have to be at his very best to keep out Eden Hazard and co.
De Gea has been let down by the shaky defence in front of him, often leaving him with no chance when facing opposition strikers who have crept behind United’s backline. Time and again he has proven to be the player the Red Devils can rely upon.
Hazard and Pedro have been in good goal scoring form this season, with Oliver Giroud always providing a threat in the air. De Gea will have to be at his best to leave Stamford Bridge with a clean sheet.
This is going to be a difficult game for United and, based on their performances in recent weeks, won’t be a great afternoon for them. But if these three show up, there’s hope for Mourinho yet.