While Manchester City have already won one trophy and beat Arsenal in their first match of the new season, the black clouds are hovering over Old Trafford. The red part of Manchester has still not been reconciled with the lack of transfers as United remain weak in some positions that need to be strengthened.
In spite of that, Jose Mourinho’s men delivered a 2-1 win against Leicester City in front of their own fans. It wasn’t a performance to remember, but three points with some positives meant fans could be proud in these days of negativity around the most crowned club in England.
Toby is not needed when you have Bailly-Lindelof pairing
It is obvious from the last season that the Manchester United back four requires changes. José Mourinho didn’t get what he wanted this summer and that was a new world-class central defender. Harry Maguire, Diego Godin, Yerry Mina and Toby Alderweireld were all very close to signing for United according to press speculation, but the first game of the season proved that the Portuguese boss has maybe found the perfect combination.
The young Swede has grown a lot in his first year at the club and seems ready to push on. Lindelof made a team-high nine clearances and was incredibly composed in defence and attack with some fantastic balls forward. That put him as the best United defender against Leicester as per Twelve’s algorithm. Just in front was Eric Bailly who walled the Foxes with his tackling, blocking and well-timed interceptions.
Return of the Shaw
Another big reason for United fans to be optimistic this season is the return of Luke Shaw. He provided a really good performance last weekend, and made it into Twelve’s team of the week. Apart from scoring a goal to double the lead, Shaw constantly bombed up the left flank and recovered well. Most people already dismissed the 23-year-old because of his not-so-good pre-season performances, and because a lack of options in his position was a big cause of frustration.
Mourinho wanted to replace Shaw with Alex Sandro this summer, but we never saw that deal happening, so the England international has got a new chance to shine. He made a couple of mistakes defensively but also had the most touches of the ball (99) which is something on which he can build his form.
Did Andreas Pereira show he can be Carrick’s heir?
Against Leicester, United set up in a 4-3-3 variation with Andreas Pereira as the single pivot with Fred and Pogba in front of him. It was the 22-year-old Belgian’s first Premier League start for the Red Devils. It seems the talented midfielder finally persuaded Mourinho that he’s capable of playing at the highest level.
Of course, Pereira only started because Nemanja Matic is injured, but José still entrusted him in an important role. Pereira, who is a more creative player than the defensively-minded Serbian, was primarily tasked to begin attacks from deeper positions.
He was very comfortable in possession, especially in situations where he needed to avoid the opposition press with his quick and vertical passes.
Twelve’s algorithm rewarded his performance against Leicester as the third best when looking overall, but what’s worth mentioning is that Pereira scored the most defence points (904), leaving Bailly and Pogba behind by almost 200 points.
Also, with Pereira’s deep and static positioning, Fred and Pogba were able to push forward more, allowing the latter to be at his best when playing with more freedom deeper in the opposing half. Yes, Pogba showed us he can play in a deeper role as France lifted the World Cup, but with United he struggled and was often disputed last season when playing in double pivot in 4-2-3-1 variance.
Can Pereira fill Michael Carrick’s boots? It would be ridiculous to expect that in full, but a very promising future lies ahead of him.
What’s for United against Brighton & Hove Albion, and vice versa?
Among all the negativity and moaning, Mourinho was still man enough to praise a „monstrously” good performance by Paul Pogba. The World Cup winner will still be the key player for the Red Devils against Brighton this weekend. We will also expect Luke Shaw to build upon his excellent performance against Leicester. There is a lot in front of Alexis Sanchez who again didn’t show any magic but wasn’t either the worst player in the team. It could just be that Mourinho’s men need more time playing together.
The Seagulls, who finished 15th last year, were downed by a deadly Roberto Pereyra double last weekend. They lost 2-0 at Watford, in the first game of their second season in the top flight since earning promotion. It’s been a busy summer on the south coast, with 16 new players arriving and 18 players departing.
Among the arrivals, it could be Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh who can pose a threat to the Red Devils. The Iranian international was directly involved in more goals than any other player in the 2017/18 Eredivisie season. Jahanbakhsh netted 21 goals while adding 14 assists to his tally. At the World Cup he created danger on the right flank where Carlos Quieroz deployed him as a winger.
If he starts here it will be a big test for him, as United comfortably denied Leicester on that side. It could also be a double-edged sword because United mainly attacked through their left side and Shaw’s forward runs often left acres of space behind him.
It will be very interesting to see how Chris Hughton copes with the pressure from last week’s defeat and a lot of new faces in the dressing room. On the other hand, Manchester United will be eager to get their revenge for last May’s 1-0 defeat. It will all be decided on Sunday.
Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 1–3 Manchester United