On Saturday, Huddersfield recorded their first victory over Manchester United since 1952 to give them their first league win in seven games and leave the Red Devils trailing behind neighbours City by five points.
With parts of the media criticising José Mourinho for ‘parking the bus’ during their recent games against Liverpool and Benfica, this was expected to be a fixture in which he might remove the handbrake. In fact, United took much of the game getting out of first gear as two goals in five minutes were enough for Huddersfield to claim an unassailable lead.
To suggest that it was simply an off-day for United does not give full credit to Huddersfield or David Wagner for the way in which they engineered the win. In this tactical round-up, Andy Dickinson highlights three factors which had a significant bearing on the weekend’s biggest shock result.
Both Jose Mourinho and Ander Herrera spoke in interviews after the match of how disappointing it was for the opposition to be more hungry for the win. The United manager went as far as praising Huddersfield for their greater “emotion, aggression, intensity and desire”. In truth, Huddersfield played at a level that few teams have matched this season and the game itself was a collective performance in which everyone played their part.
Once again, Huddersfield’s key performers delivered inspired displays. Laurent Depoitre ran himself into the ground at the tip of the attack, never once allowing the United defenders any time or respite. Aaron Mooy was deployed in a more advanced position than normal but thrived in a more creative role. Christopher Schindler was a rock at the back.
What was perhaps more impressive, though, were the performances in other areas on the pitch, areas in which some players have had mixed results in more recent weeks. For instance, Rajiv van La Parra came on in the 39th minute for the injured Elias Kachunga and terrorised the United back-line from the right wing.
Both Danny Williams and Jonathan Hogg were used in the deep-lying midfield role after having been used sparingly so far this season. Between them, they kept the central area of the pitch under control. Even Tom Ince had a big game for the Terriers.
In short, it was a fearless and highly-motivated side that Wagner put on the pitch to face Jose Mourinho’s men. United, by contrast, looked complacent and, whether that’s the result of underestimating the opposition or a build-up of games which resulted in the lethargy, Mourinho failed to get his team to comparable heights
United’s Mounting Injury Problems
When Phil Jones was forced from the game in the 23rd minute, it left United without either of their first-choice centre-backs. Recently, Jose Mourinho cleverly approached the subject of injuries by stating he wouldn’t use the growing injury list as an excuse which highlighted the current spate of injuries they’re experiencing without him technically complaining about it.
But while Jones’ replacement on Saturday was at fault for some weak defending, there’s another injured player who United appear to be severely missing on the field. Paul Pogba has not played since he picked up a hamstring injury in the Champions League match against Basel and it’s not a coincidence that United’s form has dipped without the Frenchman in the team.
A month ago, United struggled to control the midfield area against Southampton during a nervy second-half performance when the Saints strong midfield pairing dictated the game. Likewise, against Liverpool and Huddersfield, the centre of the field was an area in which United failed to dominate their opponents.
More than just a colossus in midfield, Pogba has also been supplying United with a drive and determination on the pitch. While Michael Carrick may be the club captain at United, it’s Pogba who has looked the strongest leader amongst the squad so far this season and his presence is being sorely missed from the team for this reason too.
Despite playing every league game so far, Tom Ince has not had a great start to life in the Premiership, often finding himself choking at inopportune moments in recent weeks. While David Wagner has experimented with the 25-year-old, using him both centrally and on the left, it was back on the left wing that Ince found himself this weekend as he finally repaid his manager’s faith.
It was in playing Aaron Mooy in the number 10 role which really paid dividends for Wagner, though. Freed from the defensive shackles in which he found himself locked playing alongside Philip Billing through the early parts of the season, Mooy looked like a player inspired and his opening goal put the Terriers on course for the win.
Every other option played in this position for Huddersfield has failed to sparkle so far and so it will be hard for Wagner to revert Mooy back into a deeper lying position. Added to the energetic and composed performances of Williams and Hogg sat just behind Mooy, this could well be a line-up that Wagner is tempted to stick with when Huddersfield travel to Liverpool next weekend.
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