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Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield: Five Things We Learned

Romelu Lukaku gave Manchester United the lead in the second half, before Alexis Sanchez bagged his first goal for the club, as the Red Devils comfortably saw off Huddersfield at Old Trafford.

Huddersfield were pegged back from the opening minutes, and it took a couple of sharp saves by Jonas Lossl to guide them to halftime with the scoreboard untroubled. Evan with Paul Pogba dropped to the bench, United were dominant, and the relentless pressure eventually paid off. Sanchez and Nemanja Matic won the ball back, before Juan Mata unfurled a phenomenal first-time cross that Lukaku finished with aplomb. 13 minutes later, Sanchez won a penalty, and despite Lossl’s excellent save, the Chilean converted the rebound. From there it was plain sailing for United.

 

Here are five things we learned from the game:

 

McTominay shows Pogba what Mourinho wants

The biggest news an hour before kickoff was that Mourinho had done the unthinkable: benched Paul Pogba. In his place, academy graduate Scott McTominay was given the nod. McTominay put in a tidy performance, keeping his distribution simple and effective, while assisting Matic at the base of midfield. The youngster was also unlucky not to be given a stonewall penalty for a reckless aerial challenge from Terrence Kongolo.

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Pogba was one of the players criticised Mourinho for not following orders in the hapless defeat to Spurs at Wembley on Wednesday. In contrast, McTominay followed them flawlessly. Naturally, it is easier said than done against a big-six side away from home, but Mourinho will hope that this will serve as a notice to both Pogba and the rest of the squad: poor performances will not be tolerated.

Following the game, Mourinho took the time out to praise the youngster.

 

Huddersfield’s tactics set them up to fail

 

When the Terriers shocked United back in October, it was a victory built around high-pressing, forcing mistakes from the United backline, and providing endless, energetic support. Today, the set up to stall United out, and as a result, could never muster the momentum they needed to threaten. McTominay was allowed to settle into the game, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo were comfortable all game, and on the few occasions the isolated Laurent Depoitre managed to get a hold of the ball, there was no support.

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David Wagner made an early change, brining on Aaron Mooy on for Philip Billing, who was hopelessly overrun, but it did nothing to shift the game’s momentum. His tactics dug a hole for the team they could not climb out of, and on his 300th United game, David de Gea could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout in net, and it would have not affected the game one bit.

 

Sanchez starting to settle in

 

No player went on more dribbles than Sanchez. No player was dispossessed more than Sanchez. No forward player spent more time in possession. No one took more shots. No player made more tackles. The Chilean was everywhere, particularly in the second half. He stamped his class on the game, drawing fouls, turning his man time and time again, and popping up around the Huddersfield penalty area. Deployed in a fluid three alongside Mata and Jesse Lingard, behind Lukaku, Huddersfield could not live with the United number seven.

With his first United goal out of the way, and his familiarity with the setup around him rising every game, United have the pieces for a terrifying forward line.

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Terriers feeling the heat

 

The loss left Huddersfield second-from-bottom in the table, after a run of five consecutive losses. Their last point came in 2017, with a 0-0 draw against Burnley on 30th December. Since then, they have dropped from 17th to 19th, scoring one league goal and conceding 14.

Their next games are against Bournemouth and West Brom, two other sides mired in the lower half of the table. These represent vital opportunities to rediscover some form. If they do not arrest this slump soon, Wagner may have to start planning for a quick return to the Championship.

 

Mourinho’s selection headache

United are now spoilt for choice up front. Playing either a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-3-3, Mourinho can choose between Lukaku, Sanchez, Mata, Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to fill in a variety of positions in the forward line. It may mean that some are disappointed with their game time each week, but it makes United that much harder for opponents to prepare for. The phsyciality of Lukaku, subtlety of Mata, skill of Martial, directness of Rashford, endeavour of Lingard, and the x-factor of Sanchez all provide different challenges.

It may be a headache, but it is one that Mourinho probably welcomes.

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