Manchester United suffered yet another away defeat as Chelsea clinched a narrow 1-0 defeat over Red Devils on Sunday. Jose Mourinho's side suffered their second defeat in the league this season after they were humbled at Huddersfield two weeks ago.
United’s poor run at Stamford Bridge continued on Sunday and they are yet to win at this ground since 2012. Mourinho’s men are now eight points behind their neighbours as earlier in the day Manchester City got a win against Arsenal at Etihad Stadium.
Full-back's poor in final third
United lined up in 3-4-1-2 formation which meant the width was provided by the wingbacks in this system. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young occupied this fullback positions in this game. Young has been solid lately whilst Valencia is a mainstay, but both of them lack decisiveness in the final third and they were poor against Chelsea on Sunday.
Valencia has been sound defensively but he is very predictable when he goes forward, ironic as he used to be a winger. He is not able to find the forwards while crossing or by playing a key pass.
Romelu Lukaku thrives on service and the fullbacks have hardly helped him in this big games. United to need a great improvement in this positions if they want this system to work effectively. Moreover the squad lacks a traditional winger with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all preferring to pick up the ball in a more central position.
The problems are beyond Pogba’s injury
United have been playing without Paul Pogba for more than a month now, the talismanic midfielder has been out due to a hamstring injury which he suffered against Basel in September. United have lost all the creativity in the middle of the park due to his absence.
However the poor performances in October are not entirely due to Pogba’s absence. United have largely suffered due to not playing to the strengths of their attacking players. There has been a general trend of lumping the balls upfront into Lukaku. The Belgian struggles in type of approach and it is no coincidence that he has went on a goal drought during this period.
Pogba will be back after the international break. It will be big boost for United but they need to play to the strengths of their attacking players. The likes of Marcus Rashford, Martial and Lukaku have had a great start to this season but Mourinho can get even more out of them if he plays to their strengths.
Mkhitaryan needs a break
In the absence of Pogba, the form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan has also caused a lot of problems to United’s attacking play. The Armenian has been poor for past five to six games after an impressive start to the season.
Mkhitaryan has not recorded a single assist since September. The Armenian looks lost on the pitch and desperately needs a break, such as how he responded well last year when he was not playing. This could work again this season if Mourinho takes a tougher stance and demotes the Armenian to the bench. This will keep the midfielder out of firing line and could also help him in getting his best form back.
Rashford and Lukaku are not the ideal strike partnership right now
Mourinho went with two strikers against Chelsea, but Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku looked completely isolated from each other. There was hardly any combinational play between the two forwards, but the service they got from those behind them didn't sparkle either.
However the duo don’t strike a perfect partnership, compared to the way Lukaku and Martial combine. The Frenchman has also linked up well with Rashford when they both have played together.
International break comes at the right time
The international break is generally the least favourable thing to happen for the clubs and football fans. However this break has probably arrived at the right time for Manchester United. The Red Devils are not in the best form right now after a blistering start to the season.
This two weeks allow the likes of Pogba, Maraoune Fellaini and Marcos Rojo to regain the complete fitness. Mourinho has the time to reflect on things and get the things right as United will enter into festive period. Romelu Lukaku will also be hoping to get back his confidence by getting some goals for Belgium.