Is momentum changing for Manchester United after victory against Tottenham?
Fresh off arguably their best win of the season, while still just a lowly 1-0 result against Tottenham, Manchester United are visibly different this season. Jose Mourinho is starting to shape the squad into the players that he is looking for. The manager expressed that forming his side in the image that he wanted and breaking the mould that was left by managers before him was going to take time. For supporters- this is not always the statement that they are looking to hear as for them there is no time to waste or more points that can be dropped.
Sunday’s win at Old Trafford was the first home win in weeks for the Red Devils and supporters suffered through an onslaught of chances in the second half after the dreaded 60 minute mark struck again. Failing to convert on attacking chances and defensive let offs allowed Spurs to mount what many thought was going to be yet another equalizer after a sound display once again. Manchester United dug deep and with timely last ditch tackles by Phil Jones and high pressure by Ander Herrera the lone goal was enough to break the ice. Some of the weight seemed to be lifted off the players and supporters after the whistle.
There is a slight shift in attitude amongst the players that is starting to take reveal itself, leaving a sense of optimism about what the busy holiday period will bring. Rejuvenated by solid performances by Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones and a transformed Antonio Valencia, Manchester United are looking to head into the busiest part of the season with a little bit of confidence. With each passing press conference and post game chat the players are supportive of one another and have remained positive in their approach. The manager has been adamant for his players to take risks and step outside their comfort zone to get the job done. This acknowledgement of risk/reward play is in complete contrast to the methodical and conservative footprint left by the previous manager, Louis Van Gaal.
What needs to continue?
Many thought that Henrikh Mkhitaryan was with one foot out the door before being reintroduced to the United faithful. With a new bounce in his step and a press conference in which he admitted to his poor start with his new club being his fault, the player brought in on form from Dortmund is now looking the part. Since this moment he has rewarded himself and manager with four man-of-the-match performances in which he scored two goals and recorded two assists.
The Armenian international went back to the basics of self-determination, listening to the manager and spent time left out of the squad working rather than sulking. It seems to be working as right up until the tackle by Danny Rose that saw him stretchered off in later part of the second-half the performance was gritty, inspired and confident. If Manchester United is going to close the gap on the top four spots in the league this year they are going to need to step up their game together and grind out results that made them so successful in prior years. Mourinho is no stranger to winning games 1-0 but with a bit more composure around the goal they would be seeing much higher score lines.
Ander Herrera needs to keep up the “dirty work” and continue to impress the Old Trafford faithful. The slender Spanish midfielder has been selected repeatedly by the manager for Premier League contests and his passion does not go unnoticed. While there is undoubtedly more technically and physically gifted players, difficult to match would be the heart of this ever improving player. While watching in the early morning hours from the United States, I can hear his name being sung around the stadium as he continues to develop an almost cult following. Some fans have even expressed that we might be seeing the future captain of the club. His poise and confidence in front of the microphone and the way he speaks about his teammates and club only drive this suspense and suspicion further.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, while in the later stages of their careers, need to do what they have done for a large part of their careers and that is play with tenacity in front of net and pave the way for youngsters, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. By removing the pressure off the younger generations and focusing on their personal form while contributing to team success, it will allow the mistakes of budding new players to be overlooked. Zlatan seems to have shaken some of the cobwebs off in recent matches and has finished with a greater level of confidence and consistency and shades of the “old” Rooney have been seen.
Lastly, Paul Pogba needs to realize that he does not need to do it all himself. Recently, the press has slammed his performance and accused him of not living up to his hefty price tag. While the assists and goals are not what some were expecting, his personal form has not been terrible. Glimpses of magic intermixed with shades of inconsistent performances the expensive talent is proving his worth. There is no doubt the type of player that he can be and will undoubtedly become it is just how long it is going to take him to reach the level he needs to be at and remain there.
If and when the mental makeup and chemistry of this team find their strides together it is going to be something special. Together they need to embrace the target that is in front of them and understand that there is always going to be a target on their back. The only way to combat this is to string together results.
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