It’s never nice to lose a football match, particularly on a Sunday evening.
And when the margin is big enough so that a defeat becomes an embarrassment, it’s hard to come away with plenty of positives. But there are some that can be taken from this defeat, United’s 3rd in the league and 4th in all competitions.
Manchester United’s start at Stamford Bridge was as bad as anyone could have imagined going into an away game, especially against a team they have been historically poor against. Pedro, 28 seconds in, found himself remarkably through on goal, after a collective error from David De Gea, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind to put Chelsea in the lead – scoring the fastest goal this season.
This threw a huge spanner into United’s works, as they were chasing the game right from the very beginning, which had a hand in all of the early panic that developed in the back four, particularly Daley Blind who was constantly threatened by a clearly buoyed Pedro on their right flank.
This naturally meant the Red Devils had to play into the hands of the opposition, as Conte’s men were never at any point in the game forced to have a go at United – they were compact, patient and waited till an opportunity presented itself, which happened, in the 21st minute when Man United – having won the largest percentage of aerial duels in the Premier League somehow failed to deal with a simple cross inside the box, to see Gary Cahill pounce on the loose ball to see them two goals to the good. This was exactly the situation Chelsea wanted to be in, and they were in, thanks to two costly individual errors at the back.
This is why the eventual 4-0 defeat was not a failure of systems and tactics or a case of Conte outwitting Mourinho with his new found 3-4-3 formation; United were simply awful at the back on the day at crucial periods of the game and got punished by a focused Chelsea side who were up for it with a point to prove and did so emphatically, that they are ready to move forward under the Italian.
When Hazard exchanged a simple one-two in front of Juan Mata for the Belgian to make it 3-0 and Kante carved through their back four like knife through butter to add another one – it suggested that United had already lost the game in their heads long back, which is borderline disgraceful to themselves, the manager and the raucous away following, and that may be Mourinho’s biggest worry going into Wednesday’s League Cup tie against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Mourinho needs to find a solution to a few simple issues that have dented what was a good start up until the first international break, so much so that they have just only won once in the last six Premier League games. Not only does he have to find his best eleven before they enter another crucial period in December, but he should also develop a clear pattern of attacking football that gets the best out of his strongest players – Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and build a team around them, the way Antonio Conte seems to have done to extract the best performances from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.
Having come out of this tough period in the league slightly bruised physically and mentally, United have the chance now to dust themselves down and try to pick up more points in these next two months against lower mid-table sides they will play in November. Bar Arsenal on the 19th of November, United will next face Burnley at home, Swansea away and West Ham United at home.
They face the prospect of playing two home games next week and a win in the League Cup against an equally, if not more disappointing, Manchester City, would ensure their place in the quarter-finals, a trophy which Jose Mourinho won thrice in five full campaigns at Chelsea.
The possibility to win these next two home games in quick succession and take a step closer to winning the League Cup and pick up vital points in the league is staring them in the face. It’s certainly not the end of the world and it’s never been in October but they can prove that is the case, with two positive results in the following week.