Manchester United won their first major trophy under Jose Mourinho on Sunday (let’s not be silly and count the Community Shield - even Moyes won that) with a less than impressive performance. Southampton can probably count themselves unlucky to not be celebrating an EFL Cup today, as the Saints were the better side for much of the game. But as Paul Pogba himself said, that’s why we got Zlatan - to paper over the expensively-assembled cracks.
Here are a few things that we learned from Sunday’s victory. Spoiler alert: none of them are good.
The Lack of Midfield Depth is Worrying
With Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera the undisputed first choices in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Mourinho has favored of late, the workload asked of both men is starting to tell. Although Herrera provided the key assist - and what a cross it was! - for the winner, the Spaniard was noticeably off the pace in the first half. Pogba eventually took control of the midfield late in the game, but he spent the first three-quarters of the final being a half-second too slow and a half-yard out of position.
Pogba, who had an extended run of international duty in the summer and no pre-season, has more appearances than any other player in the squad this season. On top of that, he has never been substituted, and plays in one of the most physically demanding positions on the pitch. Both he and Herrera will need to be rotated on occasion, if we are to avoid burnout or injury.
The problem is the lack of suitable options behind them; a hodgepodge of has-beens, never-wases, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Michael Carrick is still a useful option, but his lack of mobility makes him an ill fit as a replacement for either of the first choice two. If anything, Carrick is an option best deployed for added security alongside Pogba and Herrera. Bastian Schweinsteiger is these days better at social media than he is at staying in footballing shape, but now is perhaps the time for Mourinho to start giving the well-paid German some meaningful minutes. Something will even have to be coaxed from Marouane Fellaini, other than time-wasting appearances from the bench. Whatever combination the manager turns to, it’s clear that he can’t continue to ride Pogba and Herrera as he has so far.
The Left-Back Situation is unsustainable
After two and a half years, are any of us sure what to make of Marcos Rojo? It’s never been clear whether he’s even any good or not, but I think we finally at least have our answer as to his best position. He had a surprisingly impressive run of games at center back, and there he should remain. The Wembley final was not his first poor game as a left-back, but it may have been his most appalling. The Argentine has a knack for doing something rash to make up for being constantly out of position that would be impressive if it wasn’t so maddening.
Daley Blind is another underwhelming option, as his glacial pace makes him an easy target for opposition wide men. The less said about Matteo Darmian at left-back, the better. And yet somehow, we’re meant to understand that Luke Shaw has been less impressive in training than all of them. The mind boggles. After Rojo’s horror show, we have to hope that Mourinho finds some other solution to this problem position, and soon.
Eric Bailly is Off Form
Whisper it quietly, but our beloved loon of a defender is officially having a difficult spell. Bailly was uncharacteristically shaky when he got himself sent off last mid-week, and on Sunday he devolved straight into doing his best Chris Smalling impression. Bailly’s recent struggles are likely not helped by playing to the actual Chris Smalling, who has especially looked like a ticking time-bomb in recent appearances.
Even though Bailly quickly established himself as the best CB at United, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22 years-old. Growing pains like this are to be expected, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the upcoming matches. Fortunately, we can balance Bailly’s recent inconsistency with the assured presence of a more composed senior partner, like:
Chris Smalling Marcos Rojo Phil Jones Oh dear.