Manchester United booked their spot in the knockout stage as group leaders after a thrilling topsy-turvy match against CSKA Moscow on Matchday 6; here are some of the talking points.
Gold Trafford again
Theatre of DREAMS #TheFootballCathedral
Following victory over CSKA, the Red Devils are now on an impressive 40-match (in all competitions) unbeaten run at OT, which goes back more than a year. Surprisingly, Old Trafford was considered a fortress under SAF, yet the current run is the longest in the club’s illustrious history. The previous record (naturally) set under Fergie was 37 games. United last lost a home game to noisy neighbors City, who are ironically the next visitors to OT. It is safe to say there is plenty riding on Jose’s side extending the impressive record by one more game (at least).
Smalling caught the Mourinho bug?
Smalling gets in a header after venturing forward from open play (credit @ManUtd twitter)
The special one isn’t widely recognized for his ability to improve players but has done just that at United. A number of players once considered likely departures are now key players, Valencia, Young, Fellaini to name a few – and next in-line appears to be ‘Mike’. The injury prone CB proved his worth under LVG, and appeared to be on an upward trajectory. However, his form initially regressed with a recurrence of injury problems last term – which reportedly left the defender on the verge of being sold. But with Jones and Bailly remaining sidelined through injury, Smalling is back in favor and has been an ever present for the past couple of months. He appeared to be returning to form over the past few games but was evidently a dominant presence at the back against CSKA. He has also noticeably become more confident in the attacking third – following his goal against Newcastle. With United looking to restore parity in the second half Smalling supported the attack, while remaining defensively astute alongside Lindelof – who also continues to improve by the game.
Lukaku has to do better
Both Lukaku and Rashford had gone several games without scoring
Lukaku has been struggling for goals of late, but found the net against CSKA – which is sure to be a relief to Jose in particular, with Zlatan still working his way back ahead of the weekend fixture. But despite scoring the Belgian still looked out of sync with some of his teammates, except Rashford who he seems to have struck a good understanding with. The former Everton man needs to work on his movement as he looked to frustrate his fellow forward at times by not making the right runs to be picked out. Regardless, Both Lukaku and Rashford needed to find their scoring boots and did so to hand the Red Devils victory.
Shaw states his case, impressively
Jose, Jose, Jose!! please forgive Shaw for not signing for Chelsea LOL!. How else do you explain keeping a possible MOTM out in the cold.
He is looking a “Shaw (sure) boy” (credit @ManUtd twitter)
It’s no secret that the LB has suffered more than most under the Portuguese, but has mostly impressed when given a chance. Shaw is one player many thought would develop under Jose, but after 3 years at OT, made only his 50th appearance for United. While he has missed games through injury, the appearance count should be considerably higher considering the youngster had been declared fit months back, but only managed two cup appearances to date. Recent talk out of OT has suggested that the player (who is reportedly the fittest at the club alongside Valencia) could make way for Danny Rose – another injury-prone player. Young has made the LB spot his with impressive displays of late, but Shaw’s MOTM performance means Jose surely has to consider him ahead of Blind and Darmian for the position. The Englishman excelled as an attacking wing-back, surging forward purposefully on numerous occasions – even testing Akinfeev with a volley in the first-half. Shaw would have been disappointed with his role in CSKA’s goal, but overall acquitted himself impressively. He still needs to work on his defending, but realistically, not many attacking fullbacks are defensively sound. The hope is now that Jose keeps his word and gives the defender more opportunities.
In other news……
Pogba is going to be a big miss for the next three games, but we all already knew that.
Pogba’s status as United’s star player is no longer in question after another commanding display
Given his EPL suspension, the Frenchman played the entire 90 mins and was his usual impressive self. Despite getting some rough treatment from CSKA, Pogba remained the catalyst for United’s improving displays. His performance only served highlight how big a miss he will be against City on Sunday. On a positive note Herrera played much better than we have seen this season, so will likely fill in for the talismanic Frenchman.
United will find out on Friday who they are drawn against when the competition resumes in February. Here’s hoping for a favorable draw.
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