Premier League Playback: How hope returned to Man United

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“UNLUCKY” UNITED GET IT RIGHT

It has taken them 12 games into the Premier League season but Manchester United finally looked how they should.

Jose Mourinho couldn’t have asked for much more from his players on Saturday as United coughed up a late goal to draw 1-1 with Arsenal at Old Trafford.

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The Portuguese coach called his team the “unluckiest in the Premier League” after a penalty kick appeal and other factors went against them.

After the match Mourinho was asked by ProSoccerTalk how his side didn’t win the game. “I don’t know!” he said, half laughing, half crying.

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He then revealed how delighted he was with the performance, if not the result.

“I can only explain the work my team did. Amazing control of a team that is very good. A team that normally produces very good attacking football and was completely controlled,” Mourinho told ProSoccerTalk. “We didn’t see their amazing players, so completely under control. When we lost the ball, our reaction to that was amazingly good, so aggressive, so intense we didn’t give them chances to build from the back. When we had the play, we play good football. We produce good chances. We should score before the 1-0, we should score after the 1-0 and we should win the game comfortably.

“I feel very disappointed for the players and for the fans but I think we have amazing fans, the way they react after this defeat was amazing. They can control their disappointment to praise the players and the performance. We are unlucky with the result but we are lucky with the fans. Arsenal is the game today and a big team but we dominate so easily. It is very frustrating. I have nothing to say against my players. I feel sorry for them. We feel like it was a defeat and Arsenal is feeling like a victory.”

Without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic and three of their first-choice back four through injury, Mourinho’s side took the game to Arsenal and could’ve easily had a penalty kick in the first half after Antonio Valencia went down in the box under Nacho Monreal‘s challenge. United should have been home and dry. Juan Mata scored a superb goal to put them ahead thanks to Ander Herrera‘s brilliant cut back, but Marcus Rashford allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to beat him on the flank and cross for Olivier Giroud to head home a late, undeserved equalizer for Arsenal.

A lackluster Arsenal knew they’d got out of jail and Arsene Wenger was the happier manager of the two. Wenger still hasn’t beaten Mourinho in 12 Premier League games but this felt like a win for Arsenal and a defeat for United.

That goes to show the degree of United’s dominance in this game. They outplayed an Arsenal side who haven’t lost since the opening day of the season and pressed them back, got the ball wide early and their midfield balance was spot on. Apart from the result there were so many positives for Mourinho. Michael Carrick, Herrera and Paul Pogba showed they are the go-to partnership in central midfield, despite Pogba getting caught in possession as he tried to force the issue.

It will take United time to click into place and all the time the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City continue to pull away from them. That is not only the by-product of Mourinho’s massive overhaul but it is also a result of the stagnation at Old Trafford over the past three seasons first under David Moyes and then under Louis Van Gaal. It will take time to turn this juggernaut in the right direction and the unforgiving nature of the Premier League won’t allow him much more time to tinker unsuccessfully. At least now he seems to have a plan and the players on board to implement it, even though he badly needs to reinforce in defense and perhaps in the central strikers role.

Mourinho’s side sit in sixth place on 19 points, nine points off leaders Chelsea. It is still early days but when you look at United’s last three home games, they’ve all ended in draw against Stoke City, Burnley and Arsenal. They should’ve ended in three wins and nine points. The Red Devils are getting closer under Mourinho and the massive changeover in personnel from game to game due to injury hasn’t helped.

Always eager to have the last word, as he walked out of the press room at Old Trafford he turned to the media and said: “Finally I know what it feels like to lose to Arsene Wenger. Finally. It feels like a defeat.”

It may have felt like one but the positive vibes were present. United have set the standard they must aspire to each and every game. With players returning from injury and luck to possibly return, this is beginning to look like a Mourinho team.


TOP DOGS PULLING AWAY

12 games into the season it is not clear which teams will challenge for the title.

Wins for Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur further underlined their title credentials, while Liverpool drawing away at Southampton showed where they could slip up this season as their red-hot strikers cooled off in the rain on the south coast. With Jurgen Klopp‘s side not having any European action to worry about this week, that will be a boost, just as it will be to Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea who continue to roll on.

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Chelsea is now a real contender for the title as they have six shutouts wins on the spin since switching to a 3-4-3 formation, while Diego Costa has now been involved in more PL goals (13) than any other player as his predatory finish saw them edge past Middlesbrough on Sunday.

For Man City, a recall for Yaya Toure after Pep Guardiola accepted an apology for his agent worked wonders with the big Ivorian scoring twice in a 2-1 win away at Crystal Palace. You can’t make this stuff up sometimes.

As for Tottenham, well, they left it late but once again Mauricio Pochettino‘s side were left to rely on Harry Kane being in the right place at the right time as he scored two late goals to edge past the Hammers 3-2. Spurs remain unbeaten and the London derby win was a big boost ahead of a massive UEFA Champions League encounte against AS Monaco on Tuesday and then another big game across the capital against Chelsea next Saturday.

With Chelsea leading the won on 28 points, Man City and Arsenal sit in second and third respectively on 27 points and then come Arsenal on 25 points and Tottenham on 24.

After that, Man United has 19 points in sixth place and if Mourinho’s men can cling on to the coat tails of the early front runners, we are in for quite the six-horse title race.


SWANS SHOW PROMISE

Bob Bradley‘s Swansea City were a few minutes from a vital win away at Everton on Saturday.

In the 89th minute a defensive mishap let in Seamus Coleman to lob home a header as the Swans were denied their first win in the Premier League since the opening day of the season.

Bradley, who was so close to grabbing his first win as a PL manager, didn’t look distraught. He just looked disappointed. There is only so much he can do and his players know it too.

“Having only six points is not down to the manager, it’s down to us the players,” Swansea’s goalscorer and playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson said. “All of the boys like the manager and the way he’s training us is very good so it is down to us to perform and get the results. He talks to us individually, talks to us man to man. He tells you straight if you are not doing it right. We owe him and we owe the club a few wins.”

The American coach can’t prepare for Federico Fernandez inexplicably stepping up to try and play offside in the final minute of the game when he already had two of his own defenders behind him. He can’t stop Jordi Amat from heading the ball back in to the danger zone instead of out for a corner. There’s only so much he can do and after five games in charge with the Swans which have yielded two draws and three defeats, it is clear Bradley needs to spend big and shake his squad up in January. He needs to add a leader to a a defensive unit which has lost its lynch-pin in Ashley Williams who was never properly replaced.

Looking at Swansea’s next eight games in the Premier League, there is plenty of promise for Bradley.

Surely they can find a way of at least winning four of these matches to set themselves up for a charge up the table in the second half of the season?

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here