Man United’s biggest problem ignored amid Mourinho’s excuses

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho refused to blame his players for a sub-par display in the Manchester Derby on Sunday, as his Manchester United team lost 3-1 at Manchester City and are now closer to the bottom three of the Premier League than the top.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ] 

Instead, Mourinho rattled off excuse after excuse as United lost for the fourth team in 12 games this season after yet another slow start. In the aftermath of the defeat, instead of highlighting United’s issues, Mourinho delivered excuse after excuse. He took the easy option.

City are 12 points ahead of United and along with Liverpool, Chelsea and even Tottenham they look set for a title tussle. United are so far from that it is scary as they’ve had to rely on late comebacks to drag them up the table in recent weeks. The wins over Bournemouth and Everton, plus the miraculous late comeback at Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, have given United’s fans false hope that this season could still be a success.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]  

Despite their late shows, the Red Devils are seven points off the top four and currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League. They’ve now conceded 21 goals in their opening 12 games of the season and for the first time since 1977 they have a negative goal difference at this stage of a campaign. That porous defense is a stain on Mourinho’s proud record as a defensive mastermind, and the fact he is ignoring that issue is most concerning as United continue to struggle.

Once again United could not carry out Mourinho’s defensive plan as he set his team up in a 4-5-1 formation and had three scrappers in midfield (Matic, Herrera and Fellaini) and the pace of Marcus Rashford to unleash on the break. It didn’t work, at all, and United looked far better when they chucked players forward in the second half as they tried to get back in the game after going 2-0 down. In truth, it was Ederson who handed them the initiative with a poor challenge to give United a penalty kick.

After the game Mourinho was asked if the derby summed up why City are pushing for a second-straight title and United, who finished a distant second behind them last season, are now solely focused on trying to finish in the top four.

“If you focus on all of the game today. The game was open for 80 something minutes, I think nobody left the stadium before their third goal, for sure, because the game was open until then,” Mourinho told reporters. “In a week where Man City played at home three matches and we played three matches away, in a week where they enjoyed two 6-0 and 6-1 victories, relaxed, no pressure, no mental effort, everything nice and easy. We played two matches away, difficult ones and the second one was like a final for us against one of the best teams in Europe, a game that demanded from us everything we had to give physically and mentally.

“When I analyze the game today I think the difference was — you can go for stats, that is the way people that don’t understand football analyze football, is with stats — but I don’t go for stats. I go for what I felt and what I watch in the game. The game was there until minute 80 something. I consider the performance of my team as a performance with mistakes. That is different than a bad performance. We made mistakes, we were punished for these mistakes. The performances, the mentality, the togetherness, belief, the fight until the end is something we are building and we are not going to lose that because of a defeat.”

That excuse about suffering from fatigue surfaced again and although United’s four-game PL unbeaten run is over, Mourinho is adamant they’re moving in the right direction.

After being asked if their poor defensive record shows he should have been handed a new center back in the summer transfer window, Mourinho praised the displays of center back pairing Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof and said he would not hammer Luke Shaw as he has played week in, week out this season.

“The game against Juventus was hard physically and mentally. I am with my players,” Mourinho said. “I am even with my players that today made the mistakes that led to Man City’s goals. We are together. We are not going to be effected by this. I am sorry we don’t play the next match soon and we have to wait 15 days for that but we are improving. We are improving and we go together until the end.”

What is at the end of this season remains to be seen, but United’s slim chances of winning the title are now over and a top four would now be a remarkable achievement.

Mourinho was asked about Paul Pogba being out injured for the derby and how that impacted his team. Another excuse soon arrived.

“I don’t like to lose a game and talk about this player who wasn’t here. But he is important for us in many aspects of the game. Because he didn’t play we had to play Fellaini who wasn’t ready to play for 90 minutes,” Mourinho said. “I can imagine when the result was 2-1, if we bring a fresh Fellaini on, I think they (Man City) would be in big, big trouble. When the result was 2-1 and it was the moment we had that final push, it was the moment Fellaini was doing an incredible effort to stay on the pitch. Not fit at all. Risking his injury and his condition and giving everything to the team. Clearly one thing is to have a fresh Fellaini and another to play him for 90 minutes in this match. Yes, we missed Paul but that doesn’t mean with Paul we win the game. That is not an excuse.”

The fact is, Mourinho delivered many excuses as to why United didn’t turn up for the derby and why they were dominated by Man City. The one thing he hasn’t delivered answers to are the same issues which have plagued United so far this season and leave them languishing outside the top four.

Player ratings: Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Manchester Derby on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola‘s men stayed top of the Premier League table and Jose Mourinho’s United are in eighth place and 12 points behind their bitter rivals.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ]

It was an intense encounter at the Etihad Stadium, as City dominated but United threatened to launch yet another comeback.

Here’s how each player ranked out of 10 during a frantic derby.


Manchester City

Ederson: 5 – Didn’t have too much to do but gave away a penalty kick rashly at a pivotal moment in the match. Another rush of blood to the head.
Kyle Walker: 6 – Some decent runs forward but United always looked more dangerous down his flank. Work to do defensively.
John Stones: 7 – Some key clearances and headers and dealt with Marcus Rashford easily.
Aymeric Laporte: 7 – See above. Another easy afternoon for Laporte who continues his incredible unbeaten run.
Benjamin Mendy: 6 – Not his best afternoon going forward but more than solid defensively. Edging back to his best.
Fernandinho: 7 – Scrapped away in midfield and had a decent effort from distance. Unsung hero. Again.
Bernardo Silva: 8 – Involved in two of City’s three goals and his pass to Gundogan for the third was sublime.
David Silva: 8 – A goal from City’s captain to get things going and Silva was at his best.
Raheem Sterling: 9 – Fine individual display. Set up the first goal, ran United ragged on the break. Has it all.
Riyad Mahrez: 7 – Involved in Aguero’s goal and drifted in and of the game. Started well but faded in second half.
Sergio Aguero: 8 – Hammered home City’s second and was a constant pest. Subbed off late on to a standing ovation.

Subs
62′ Leroy Sane on for Mahrez: 6 – A few decent chances but didn’t make the most of them. Worked hard down the left.
75′ Ilkay Gundogan on for Aguero: 6 – Missed one good chance and finished another. Nice little cameo.
90+2′ Phil Foden on for D. Silva: N/A – On for the final few seconds.


Manchester United

David De Gea: 7 – A couple of decent saves down low and solid as ever. Should he have saved Aguero’s shot?
Ashley Young: 7 – Kept plugging away down the right flank and whipped in some dangerous crosses.
Chris Smalling: 6 – Headed a few balls clear but like Lindelof, never looked at ease.
Victor Lindelof: 5 – Caught out by Aguero’s one-two with Mahrez for the second goal. Didn’t look comfortable.
Luke Shaw: 5 – Caught out with Sterling’s cross for the first goal. Shaky in possession. Not his finest display.
Ander Herrera: 6 – His kind of game. Tried to snap away at City’s midfielders but ended up chasing shadows.
Nemanja Matic: 6 – Tried to start some of United’s attack and calm them down as best as he could.
Marouane Fellaini: 5 – Added little threat going forward and didn’t add much defensively.
Jesse Lingard: 4 – Apart from one good run in the first half when he was brought down, failed to impact the game. Subbed off.
Anthony Martial: 5 – A frustrating afternoon with little service out on the left. Summed up by passing the ball out of play in the first half. Scored a penalty kick but did little else.
Marcus Rashford: 4 – Some poor first touches and hooked off in the second half.

Subs
57′ Romelu Lukaku on for Lingard: 6 – Won a penalty kick but did little else
73′ Juan Mata on for Herrera: 6 – Whipped in some decent deliveries. Too little time.
73′ Alexis Sanchez on for Rashford: 5 – Struggled down the right and gave away some needless fouls.

Four things we learned from Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City beat Manchester United 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola‘s men moving 12 points ahead of United in the process and regaining their spot atop the Premier League table.

[ MORE: Player ratings

Goals from David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva did the damage as Jose Mourinho’s men succumbed to the fluid, almost unstoppable, City attack.

Here’s what we learned from the Manchester Derby.


STERLING LEADS IMPERIOUS CITY

The past few months have underlined just how good Sterling is. After agreeing a new long-term contract at Man City earlier in the week, the 23-year-old put in a superb display which showcased his main areas of improvement. Passing and movement.

For City’s first goal his cross was weighted perfectly to unlock United’s eight-man defense on the edge of their own box, as he outrageously picked out Bernardo Silva with a stealthy swing of his right boot.

In the past Sterling could be guilty of unnecessary dribbles and wayward passes, but there is now so much more purpose to his play. His improvement under Guardiola in the past two years is stark, with only Mohamed Salah involved in more PL goals than Sterling since the start of last season.

With veterans Aguero and Silva on the scoresheet to help deliver the win, City know their attack is in safe hands for the future as Sterling will lead the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez in the future. The scary thing is, he still has plenty of room for improvement as he was guilty of not shooting as he tried to set up his teammates.


SLOW START FOR UNITED ONCE AGAIN

Add the Manchester Derby to the list of games where United have started slowly this season. That list is now almost longer than Mourinho’s arm as slow starts against Newcastle, Chelsea, Bournemouth and Juventus in recent weeks has seem them rally from losing positions.

Mourinho’s men were no doubt hampered by the loss of Pogba through injury (more on that below) but there’s no doubting that their slow starts must be eradicated if they’re going to have any chance of at least finishing in the top four. Over the course of a 10-month season at home and in Europe, United have to start getting on the front foot at the start of games. The reason they currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League, seven points off the top four, is because they continue to put themselves in poor positions early on.

What is causing them to do this again and again?

Mourinho will ponder that over the international break but it is clear that many of United’s players are tentative from the get-go and that is a surefire sign of not being comfortable with how they are playing and who they are playing alongside. United’s players grow into games and seem to grow in belief after the half time break, and they did that against City as more attacking players coming off the bench gave them fresh impetus. However, there are only so many times you can launch a comeback and United looked jaded due to their recent heroics and the wizardry of City’s attackers.


RASH EDERSON

Man City’s Brazilian goalkeeper is superb with his feet and he commands his area with ease. But over the past few weeks he has got it wrong. Big time. On Sunday he raced out of his goal and took down Romelu Lukaku to concede a penalty kick in a carbon copy of the PK he gave away last week against Southampton as he took out Danny Ings.

Ederson was visibly upset with his mistake and although Pep Guardiola tried to get his head up and applaud him from the sidelines, some of City’s technical staff in the stand were far from impressed with “Eddie” for another rash decision to rush off his line. Ederson is a forward-thinking goalkeeper and that is exactly what Guardiola wants in his way of playing. But if Ederson continues to make costly errors, a sense of shakiness could impact City’s defenders. Those are the small things which add up and Ederson’s decision making has to be a little better than it has been in recent weeks.


POGBA, DE BRUYNE BADLY MISSED

Two players who can turn a game on its head in an instance were missing for the Manchester Derby through injury and it was a such a shame. Sure, this encounter was a very good spectacle. But with KDB and Pogba, you always know a moment of magic via an outstanding pass or sensational goal are just around the corner.

The midfield battle was a little too predictable on Sunday, with Fernandinho clogging up the gaps and the two Silva’s buzzing around ahead of him playing short passes. For United, the trio of Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic did their job but they all struggled to get up and support Marcus Rashford in attack the way Pogba does with his rangy, slaloming runs. De Bruyne and Pogba being back fit and available for the next Manchester Derby will give this intriguing, feisty clash yet another layer.

Manchester Is Blue: City rolls past United

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Ilkay Gundogan‘s goal capped a 44-pass sequence that displayed Manchester City’s genius in a 3-1 defeat of Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

David Silva and Sergio Aguero scored City’s other goals, and Raheem Sterling was a 90-minute menace as City went back atop the Premier League.

Anthony Martial converted a Romelu Lukaku-won penalty for United, who was without Paul Pogba. United remains 8th with 20 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

David Silva gave City a deserved lead in the 12th minute after United was caught scrambling in the box. Raheem Sterling’s cross sailed to the back post.

It found Bernardo Silva, who cut back across goal to David Silva for two touches and a goal.

Bernardo fed Aguero in the 45th minute, but the Argentine had a nearly impossible angle to squeeze it past David De Gea.

All-in-all, United was fortunate to escape the half down 1-0.

[ MORE: 4 things | Player ratings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

That score line didn’t last long, as Aguero worked a 1-2 with Riyad Mahrez before positively smashing the ball through the flailing arms of De Gea.

Romelu Lukaku subbed into the match and was promptly dropped in the box in a 50-50 with Ederson.

When City finally found its insurance goal, the class was unparalleled. This was “Barcelona at its best” from Pep’s men, with a 42-pass sequence leading to Gundogan’s finish.

What a goal.

Watch Live: The Manchester Derby, Arsenal-Wolves

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Manchester United will not have Paul Pogba for the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH THE MANCHESTER DERBY LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Romelu Lukaku is back in the fold, but on the subs’ bench. He joins Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez there.

Elsewhere, Arsenal hosts Wolverhampton Wanderers at 11:30 a.m. ET

WATCH ARSENAL-WOLVES ON NBC SPORTS GOLD HERE

MANCHESTER DERBY LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy, Fernandinho, Silva (C), Mahrez, Bernardo, Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Muric, Kompany, Gündogan, Delph, Sané, Jesus, Foden

Manchester United: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw, Matic, Herrera, Fellaini, Lingard, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Darmian, Jones, Fred, Mata, Sanchez, Lukaku.