What Went Wrong in United’s 4-0 Demolition at Stamford Bridge?

Having seen two promising performances in the last week against Liverpool and Fenerbahce, and with Chelsea having at no point this season been particularly impressive, I was thoroughly convinced Jose Mourinho would at least pick up a point upon his return to Stamford Bridge. Boy was I wrong.

I was speechless after seeing Manchester United suffer one of their worst losses in Premier League history, which at times felt like the closest thing to the their famous 6-1 thrashing in the Manchester derby of October 2011. Everyone was shocked at just how emphatic Chelsea’s victory seemed. A lot of blame has been hurled towards Jose Mourinho, but was it entirely his fault?

It’s easy to say United lost because they played poorly, which for the large part is true; their defence – Chris Smalling in particular – had an absolutely dreadful game. But it was quite apparent that the loss wasn’t just the result of a bad performance.

Here we try to address the major issues the Red Devils faced and why they were beaten so convincingly today.

Zlatan Ibrahimović

After securing the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on in the summer – fresh off the back of a 50-goal season at Paris Saint Germain –  I didn’t think I’d ever be so frustrated with him as I was today. It was clear that he was lacking any patience up front which, as a target man, really doesn’t work well for his game.

Playing for PSG in Ligue 1, he rarely had to wait for crosses to be launched into the box, and he rarely had to wait very long for the creative players behind him to feed him goalscoring opportunities. But that was Ligue 1; he’s in the Premier League now.

Ibrahimovic needs to learn that unlike his time in France, he isn’t going to be given a goalscoring chance every two minutes nowadays. He needs to understand that, playing the role he does, if he’s not seeing much of the ball it’s actually extremely unhelpful to drop into defensive midfield just to get himself a bit more involved.

That wasn’t his only problem either; in all honesty it didn’t seem he cared much at all today. He didn’t look bothered about getting into space in the box, he stopped jumping for headers… he looked like a player who was just there to pick up his weekly wages.

He’s meant to be one of the main men in a team that just got completely played off the park by one of their biggest rivals.

Does this look like a man who genuinely cares? No.

Attitude and positioning aside, I think it’s pretty blatant that Zlatan is out of form. There’s obviously no debate over his status as a world-class player, but his 23 shots over the last five league games – without a single goal or assist – and 17 fouls committed don’t really scream out form do they?

Of course it’s perfectly reasonable for a 35-year-old playing his first season in the Premier League to hit some poor form, but there’s no reason his reputation should keep him in the starting 11.

Mourinho had the cojones to drop Wayne Rooney from the squad completely, now it’s Zlatan’s turn to sit on the bench for a bit. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are both natural strikers currently doing a job out wide. Give one of them a go! Keeping them on the wings for the long-term is only going to halt their growth.

Team Selection Not Matching Game-Plan

It looked as though Jose Mourinho’s game-plan today was to pump the ball into the channels, get the likes of Antonio Valencia and Marcus Rashford to the byline, and fire crosses into the box.

Now this makes sense. Manchester United have a very tall squad and are pretty good in the air, at least compared to Chelsea, who do concede fairly regularly from this sort of play. It’s also understandable to get long-balls out wide in an attempt to expose the opposing wing-backs.

What wasn’t rational, however, was Mourinho’s selection of players to execute this plan. Such a game-plan necessitates excellent long-passers of the ball just ahead of the back-four, and a technically superb, creative front-line.

So how Marouane Fellaini started this game with Michael Carrick and Juan Mata on the bench I will never know, especially after their performances against Fenerbahce mid-week.

Look at this ball from Michael Carrick shown below. I don’t think anyone could see Marouane Fellaini displaying such accuracy; why on earth was he picked for a game where it was so blatantly needed?

Even if he didn’t want to play Carrick, surely Jose could see past his seemingly unwarranted vendetta towards Bastian Schweinsteiger? Or even if he thought he’s not athletic enough either, surely Timothy Fosu-Mensah would be more effective in that role than Marouane Fellaini?

Conclusion

There is still very much left of this Premier League season, and a lot will undoubtedly change a few months down the line. However, I do think that some things need to be amended immediately. If Zlatan keeps up this form, he can’t carry on starting solely because of his name.

Mourinho is obviously still getting used to his squad. Hopefully he will realize soon enough when it is appropriate to start the likes of Fellaini and when it is not.

I’m convinced that Manchester United will return to their perch under Jose Mourinho, and it shouldn’t take the club too long either. Let’s just hope today was a one-off.