Manchester United’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season came to an abrupt end on Saturday as two first-half goals earnt Huddersfield Town a shock victory at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Jose Mourinho’s side had enjoyed a seamless start to the new campaign, setting the pace with Manchester City at the top of the table and keeping seven clean sheets in their eight league matches. However, their defence was breached inside half an hour when Aaron Mooy coolly swept home after Tom Ince’s initial shot was saved.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors just five minutes later when Laurent Depoitre capitalised on Victor Lindelof’s defensive error to round David de Gea and double the Terriers’ lead.
United dominated possession as they looked for a way back into the match but they failed to carve out many meaningful chances, even with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan both brought on from the bench.
It was the 19-year-old that offered a glimmer of hope late on, nodding in from Romelu Lukaku’s pinpoint cross, but it wasn’t enough to deny Huddersfield their first win over United for 65 years.
Huddersfield learn from mistakes against Tottenham
It was only three weeks ago when Huddersfield Town were blown away at home by a ruthless display from Tottenham, and it is fair to say on that occasion they came out with the wrong attitude.
They tried to take the game to their opponents too early, leaving gaps at the back that were easily exploited, and they left themselves far too much to do early on to salvage anything from the match.
Nonetheless, manager David Wagner had clearly learnt from his mistakes of that afternoon and, against an equally imposing Manchester United test, his side performed with a much better balance and they got their just rewards for a more measured approach, ensuring they made their opportunities count.
They were never likely to dominate possession against United but their evident tenacity in both attack and in defence, allied with some woeful defending from the visitors, got their noses in front.
The Terriers then showed an awful amount of character to make sure that they didn’t let this lead slip out of their grasp – particularly after Rashford had pulled one back – and it was a valiant rear-guard effort from the hosts, who defended narrowly all game to keep the impact of United’s attacking outlets to a minimum.
It says it all that Huddersfield’s centre-back pairing of Christopher Schindler and Mathias Jorgensen made 28 clearances between them on Saturday – more than six of the 12 Premier League sides in action – and it summarises just how much they battled for what was an ultimately deserved three points.
Manchester United’s injury woes continue as defence falters
In a week that saw Jose Mourinho hit the headlines with his comments about United’s ongoing injury problems, he will be left ruing his luck once again following yet another casualty on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors could have become the first top-flight team to ever keep eight clean sheets in their opening nine Premier League matches of the season but, when Phil Jones was forced off after just 23 minutes after a tackle with Mooy, things began to fall apart defensively.
It was Victor Lindelof – the £31 million arrival from Benfica – who was trusted with duties at the back but he struggled from the start, looking nervy every time the ball came his way, and it was little surprise that he cost his side a second goal when he misjudged the flight of an innocuous Jonas Lossl goal-kick.
If anything, it showed just how important that Jones has become to Mourinho’s back-line, with the hosts immediately capitalising on the huge void left by the England international’s absence from defence.
Whilst Mourinho didn’t want to single anyone out in his post-match interview – and rightly so, as Juan Mata’s error also led to a home goal – Lindelof’s contribution rather encapsulated United’s afternoon.
The 23-year-old had been kept out of Premier League action by Mourinho for a reason so far this season, only being awarded a first taste of top-flight football in the dying moments against Liverpool last week, and based on his display at Huddersfield it is clear to see he is correct and that Lindelof isn’t ready yet.
Potentially season-defining fortnight awaits Jose Mourinho’s side
With a tough double-header coming up against Tottenham and Chelsea before the international break is upon us once again, Manchester United could have really done with a victory against Huddersfield.
Manchester City are rampant at the top and, considering they face kinder fixtures against West Brom and Arsenal next in the league, there is a real possibility they can carve out a big lead over November.
However, what will have Mourinho most concerned is not the result on Saturday, but the tepid manner in which they fell to defeat at a newly-promoted outfit, who hadn’t won in their previous six league outings, and the fact they only managed three shots on target all match starts to bring back last year’s woes.
Credit where credit is due, Huddersfield were magnificently resilient.
However, for a team that have aspirations of the title there was a lack of character; think back to the Sir Alex Ferguson era and these are the sort of games where United would have fought back and ground out a late result – Aston Villa in 2012 springs to mind – but they seemed devoid of ideas against the Terriers.
After two disappointing outings in the Premier League, United need to get back on track quickly, and there’s arguably no better way to do that than set the record straight against two title challengers.