Voice of Reason

  • In our first weekly Features on everything Football, Connor Pritchard discusses Manchester United's implosion at Chelsea, and City's stumbling against Southampton.

It’s fair to say that Super Sunday did not deliver for either of the Manchester clubs this weekend as both sides faltered in their attempts to take advantage of yesterday’s results.

With both North London clubs drawing 0-0 on Saturday it provided City with a chance to go two points clear at the top of the table and United with the opportunity to close the gap on their title rivals.

For City and Guardiola, the 1-1 draw to Southampton will feel like a loss, especially after their abysmal performance at the Camp Nou in midweek. Following such a battering to the hands of Lionel Messi and co, it was expected that City would be out with a point to prove and look to vent their frustrations on to Southampton. A side, however, that had kept five clean sheets in their last seven games in all competitions – including three away from home.

John Stones, however, decided otherwise in the 27th minute when his hospital pass gifted Nathan Redmond the chance to put the travelling Saints 1-0 up, which he duly took. It wasn’t the first time this week City had conceded trying to pass it out from the back, with Messi’s hat-trick goal coming from a similar misplaced ball.

Despite City’s fantastic start to the season, it is becoming clear that the squad is having somewhat of a difficulty adjusting to the manager’s style of play. Not only that, but it’s also apparent that Pep is still trying to work out which personnel fit the new system. In the last two Premier League matches we have seen a lot of changes: both Kolarov and Clichy were given a go as the left-sided centre-back, Kompany brought back into the middle, Sane down the right – none of which yielding great success.

One player that is thriving in his role under Pep, however, is Kelechi Iheanacho, who again came off the bench today and added to his ridiculous conversion rate – of what seems like a goal every shot he takes – by steering home a Sane pull-back just after half-time. This would be City’s only goal in the match in a game where they dominated the possession but failed to create and convert any opportunities of substances. A familiar pattern for a side who are now without a win in five games – the longest winless streak in Guardiola’s managerial career.

City dropping points would not be the story of the day though as United were embarrassed on Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge – losing 4-0 to Pedro, Cahill, Hazard and N’golo Kante goals.

Following the Monday night snooze-fest at Anfield, United fans were hoping for a more expressive performance from their side. This notion lasted the best part of thirty-one seconds when Marcos Alonso sent through fellow Spaniard Pedro who rounded the onrushing De Gea before slotting the ball into the empty net.

The robust, organised defence that we saw against Liverpool was undone by one ball: with Blind playing Pedro onside, Smalling failing to track the run and De Gea committing himself too early – a multitude of individual mistakes that left United on the back-foot before they even had the chance to touch the ball.

When United did get on the ball however, their build-up play was pedestrian and lacked any real urgency going forward. It’s fair enough setting up shop away from home against the top teams but if you’re to deploy those tactics then surely you need counter-attacking threats to potentially win games for you? Players like Lingard and Rashford that can hurt you with their pace are perfect for these situations – but not when they find themselves having to play as wing-backs for 90% of the game.

Despite the defensive effort, Chelsea went on to add three further goals. The fourth, however, will get under the skin of United fans the most: as N’golo Kante played a one-two with Pedro before seemingly walking through the United midfield, selling Chris Smalling with a fake shot then stroking it past the helpless David De Gea – summing up a miserable afternoon for United.

Following recent results, it’s fair to say that despite both Manchester clubs relatively successful starts to the 2016-17 season – both managers are still searching for their ideal starting eleven for their respective systems. It will be interesting to see how they line-up against each other for their EFL encounter on Wednesday.