By now, the ordinary Manchester United fan must have acquainted themselves with the chills and spills from the John Smith stadium on Saturday. Much has already been imprinted on the post-mortem from the game and as such there’s no point in laboring to echo what the punditry came up with and no doubt will continue to come up with during the week in a bid to explain United’s collapse at Huddersfield Town.
The overreaction is in tune with the immediacy in modern-day football but fans are left with little to cling on to if the diagnosis involves words such as “attitude”. This is what made Saturday unacceptable. Because, and make no mistake about it, at Anfield and at the Estadio da Luz, the case for the defence was primarily the result. There wasn’t much to write home about the twin performances but the results didn’t betray the attitude required of Manchester United players.
On Saturday, it was tough to look at it in any other way. The only mitigation was that United continue to pick up injuries down the spine of the team. Phil Jones, the last remnant of Mourinho’s first choice defence, barely lasted half an hour before his body yet again failed him. Considering his history with injuries, it’s “fair” to say that he was long overdue one, having played every minute of the league season until a muscle gave way.
With Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Marouanne Fellaini out injured, United are considerably not as effective, moreso when the manager chose to leave out Rashford and Mhkitaryan. Still, United are expected to have enough to beat a newly promoted side. Except that the context of the game perhaps wasn’t drummed into the players. You see, whilst a game against a promoted side is bound to be a banker, it is the said club’s biggest game of the season especially when their opposition is the country’s biggest club. The fixture then morphs from a league game into a Cup game. Form and quality go out the window, and are quickly replaced by desire and application.
This is the point where United’s record of being overrun in 41 of 46 league games under Mourinho suddenly became relevant. Huddersfield overrun United to extend that record, and it wasn’t just because they spent large periods without the ball. When they had it, they put in the hard yards to unsettle United. United slowed down whenever they regained possession. This was easy. Far too easy to defend against.
What shouldn’t be lost in the aftermath of the fixture is that it is almost a year since United turned round a premier league fixture. In every game, since Boro at Old Trafford last season, that they’ve trailed, no in-game comeback has been achieved to turn defeat into three points. It’s a damning deficiency for a side with designs on challenging for the title. Why? Because you don’t really have to be that good to have that trait. Chelsea recovered twice from a negative position during their game at the weekend. Arsenal came from behind to beat Everton on Sunday. If the mental application is right, then you shouldn’t be having a meltdown just because the opposition has taken the lead.
United’s brilliant start to the season means that the past couple of results are not quite a disaster for them but a momentous reaction will be required on Saturday to beat off the challenge from the South and relaunch ours. The margins get ever more slimmer.