5 Questions Following United’s 4-0 Defeat to Chelsea

Had your fill of “five things we learned…” posts this week? How about five questions to ponder instead? Check out the key talking points following our humiliation at Stamford Bridge below…

Does Zlatan deserve to be starting on current form?

Just 6 months ago, people were asking if Ibrahimovic was in the best form of his career. And when he arrived at United, the initial signs were entirely positive, with a bicycle kick goal in his pre-season debut vs Galatasaray and another goal on his Premier League debut against Bournemouth. The 35-year-old has 4 goals from 9 Premier League appearances so far, which is hardly a poor return, but the Chelsea game was the 5th consecutive fixture in which he has failed to find the net. He hasn’t experienced a drought like this since 2010 with Milan (then again, whisper it… he finished that season with the Scudetto.)  His post-match behaviour left a sour taste for many on Sunday, and has certainly sharpened the focus on our main man up front. Should he be dropped for a couple of games, starting with City this week? And if so, who would take his place? Rooney? Rashford? Tony M? My view is that he may be due a rest, but ultimately he needs the tactical framework and the right support around him to make the maximum impact, and that is still very much a work in progress. Which leads me to question two…

Should Mata be the first name on the teamsheet?

In my opinion, Juan Mata brings a level of intelligence and artistry when he steps onto the pitch that nobody else in the squad can match. His quick-thinking, spatially-aware, constantly-creative brain is something I’m always grateful to witness. His presence seems to instantly encourage better movement around him, and his ability to spot a run and thread a pass often pays dividends. Plus he scores some fantastic goals for us too. He’s certainly not much of a defensive asset, but just how many defensively-oriented players should a Manchester United team really need? With a strong spine and a well-drilled defensive setup, a player like Mata should have the freedom to work his magic, but unfortunately our spine has just lost a major vertebrae and we looked in defensive disarray at Chelsea. So was Mourinho right to start with Mata on the bench in a tough away game against a major rival? Will he start him in the League Cup tomorrow? I’d like to think that even with a key defender out and a lack of clarity on our ideal CM setup, we should be building around a player as inventive as Johnny Death.

What does Bailly’s injury mean for our defence?

Bailly’s knee injury could rule him out for at least a month, and given that he’s off to the African Cup of Nations in January, that means he likely won’t have a consistent run in the team for quite some time. On the basis of Smalling’s retrograde performance on Sunday, this is definitely a concern. I’d expect to see us revert to the Smalling/Blind CB combo favoured by LvG, hopefully with Luke Shaw re-establishing his place at LB, and Valencia continuing his good form at RB. The chances are we’ll see more of Rojo than we’d ideally like over the coming months, but it could also provide some increased opportunities for Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe, which I truly hope they’ll make the most of. And with Phil Jones perennially “closing in on a comeback“, perhaps we’ll get to see that prize-winning gurn again at some point, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Is Pogba still being played too deep?

He scored a stunner against Fenerbache the other night, but there’s no denying Pogba’s form has been underwhelming overall. Is he simply not doing his job properly, or is it predominantly down to how he’s being played? There was lots of debate about 4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1 earlier in the season, in terms of which formation would allow Mourinho to get the best out of his most expensive player. I’m a fan of 4-2-3-1 as it accommodates Mata in the no.10 position, so the question then is who accompanies Pogba in the two, and how much freedom that affords him to push up. My preference would be for either Herrera, Carrick or Schneiderlin, depending on the opposition. For me, Fellaini shouldn’t be starting in the biggest games, and definitely doesn’t fit well in a double pivot. For teams that want to press us, I’d pick Herrera. For teams that want to sit deep and need to be unlocked, Carrick. And for big games where we want the likes of Hazard marked out of the game, Schneiderlin would be my choice. In all of those scenarios, Pogba should have the freedom to roam forward, link up with Mata and the rest of the front four, press the defence, and test the keeper. Right now, he seems to be spending too much time battling in midfield, and whilst his physicality can be helpful there, it prevents him doing what he does best.

Will Schneiderlin ever get his chance?

I’ve mentioned that I’d rather see Schneiderlin as the destructive DM in big games, rather than Fellaini, but the signs so far suggest that Mourinho simply doesn’t see him in his plans. This one’s really bugging me, as whilst he’s never replicated his Southampton form for us, I’ve seen enough evidence of his ability to stifle opponents and break up attacks, combined with technical ability and a range of passing that’s rarely acknowledged, to believe he could play a big role for us. This is the player we signed right here:

I’m clearly not alone in my confusion at seeing Schneiderlin frozen out…

But unsurprisingly, the rumours of his impending departure continue:

Have we seen the last of Morgan Schneiderlin in a Manchester United shirt? I truly hope not, as he is exactly the type of player that can help us avoid the kind of humiliation we witnessed this weekend.