Manchester United blew away CSKA in Moscow ticking off another test in a difficult period with injuries. For an hour, they were superb moving the ball rapidly with purpose as a team. United looked well-drilled, sharp and motivated in a fixture that should have caused them more problems than it did. Scoring early helped, but they went for the throat leaving CSKA and their manager reeling.
CSKA coach Viktor Goncharenko v. complimentary. Said CSKA were "destroyed". Speed of United defensive transitions "beyond my understanding".— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) September 27, 2017
José Mourinho appears to have not only put together a useful squad but is showing he knows how to best use them. Teams have been selected sympathetically balancing the task at hand and the side’s momentum as a priority along with players’ individual development. Some have had to be more patient than others, not least Ander Herrera, but opportunities are available to all if they take them as Herrera did on Wednesday. Furthermore, Mourinho’s subs have been, more or less, spot on changing or securing games. Actions rather than just words are playing out and the buoyancy around the squad can only improve as they pay off.
A lot was made of freezing out Henrikh Mkhitaryan early on last season but conspicuously little on sticking with him now. Mourinho is displaying plenty of trust with the Armenian playing him regularly and not hauling him off when he’s blowing hot and cold, which Mkhitaryan does regularly, and is reaping the rewards. Mkhitaryan’s a player always trying difficult things and, as such, isn’t always consistent drifting in and out of games – a luxury Nani. Mourinho clearly sees something he likes for the extravagance in sometimes ceding control and will push Mkhitaryan to raise his levels in the hope of addressing his overall contribution. Competition for Mkhitaryan’s spot is high, as the player is no doubt aware, and he should gain confidence from his manager’s recent faith.
Unsurprisingly with key injuries particularly in midfield, Mourinho went with three at the back, or five depending on your outlook, for United’s biggest challenge so far in Moscow and his team ruthlessly nailed it. With the majority of United’s fixtures away from home in October, a dizzying performance which will have pleased Mourinho most could not have come at a better time.
Mourinho’s next challenge will be keeping feet on the ground with one more game before the last international break of the year. Crystal Palace at home is ideal following the long trip east but the manager will be mindful of complacency shuffling his pack accordingly. Thoughtfully pre-empting more difficult periods, Mourinho said after their 4-1 away win and tenth goal in nine games for Romelu Lukaku:
Mourinho may allow time to reward himself, and looks to have already started by again highlighting Liverpool’s generous fixture schedule this week after they fluffed their trip to Russia prior to their clash in a couple of weeks. United are back in the Champions League and enjoying themselves again, but expect Mourinho to remind people how far they’ve come.