Nemanja Matic believes Manchester United are back in the title hunt after a win masterminded by Jose Mourinho – a manager he says has been unperturbed by mounting pressure and remains one of the world’s best.
United could ill afford the pressure to ratchet up any higher heading into the international break after chastening back-to-back defeats against Brighton and Tottenham.
Last Monday’s 3-0 loss to Spurs was the biggest home defeat of Mourinho’s managerial career, with eyebrows raised further by the United manager’s press conference antics.
But Matic knows there is a method to such bombast, helping to take the pressure away from his players ahead of a trip to Burnley that they won 2-0 on Sunday.
“He was very confident before the game he prepared the game in a very good way,” the defensive midfielder said.
“We knew where they could cause us problems with the long balls, that is why (Marouane) Fellaini played close to our defence, to stop the long balls and I think this performance shows that how we need to play football and we still can compete for the title.
“Of course, he knows what he is doing (in press conferences) for sure. You probably know that also. It’s good for us also.
“He is one of the best managers in the world, you know what he won in his career so that shows you everything.”
But things have gone awry at Old Trafford of late – not that Matic, a Premier League winner under the Portuguese at Chelsea, has not seen any difference in Mourinho’s persona this season.
“No, no,” the United midfielder said. “I think he is dealing very well with the pressure.
“That is why he is here in Manchester United. I don’t see any difference.”
The win at Burnley means United sit on six points after four games – and a further six behind Liverpool, Chelsea and surprise package Watford.
Asked whether United can afford any further slip-ups considering the gap, Matic said: “Of course, but they (United’s rivals) also have to win all games, and I think that’s impossible.
“Someone needs to lose to drop the points and it’s still too early to say something.
“We will see in March where we are because in March you can see who is fighting for the title, who is not, who is fighting to be in the top 4. It is still too early.
“We have to start to win the games and I think we played well, like we played first half against Spurs, I think we did well.
“We won 2-0 but we also had many chances to score, but I am happy with 2-0.”
The Red Devils reportedly triggered Godin’s £18 million release clause on transfer deadline day, and had consequently arranged transportation for the Uruguayan defender.
However, Atletico offered Godin a new contract to keep their captain at the club, scuppering United’s advances.
Godin was one of a host of centre-backs United were linked with as manager Jose Mourinho looked to strengthen his defence, though they ultimately ended up signing none of their targets.
Jose Mourinho might not have got exactly what he wanted in the transfer market this summer, but Luke Shaw’s blistering start to the season has been as good as a new addition for unconvincing Manchester United.
Shaw has endured several frustrating years since arriving at Old Trafford from Southampton in the summer of 2014. It seems amazing that four years have passed since he was brought in for £30 million – with much expected of the then hugely talented teenager.
Things haven’t exactly gone to plan in the intervening time – with a horrendous broken leg suffered at the start of his second season in a Champions League game against PSV derailing fine progress in his debut campaign.
Weight and fitness issues, as well as his questionable off the field lifestyle, have stunted his progress ever since, with Shaw often attracting the ire of Mourinho during the Portuguese’s two seasons in charge.
But, the 23-year-old has started the 2018/19 campaign in scintillating style – delivering performances full of zest and tenacity at a time when United have been flawed and flimsy.
He has been the bright spark in an otherwise torturous start to the Red Devils’ campaign and he was again excellent as United relieved the pressure on Mourinho with a comfortable 2-0 win at Burnley on Sunday, despite finishing the game with 10 men following Marcus Rashford’s red card.
Here we take a closer look at Shaw’s start to the campaign and cast a magnifying glass over just how good he has been in these early weeks.
FORM FOR UNITED
Goals: 1 – 3rd
Minutes played: 360 – joint 1st
Shots (per game): 2 – 5th
Pass accuracy: 83.3 – 13th
Aerials won: 1.8 – 7th
Tackles: 1.8 – 4th
Interceptions: 1.5 – 8th
Clearances: 3.5 – 5th
Dribbled past: 0.3
Blocks: 0.3 – 5th
Key passes: 1.3 – 6th
Dribbles: 1.5 – 2nd
Unskilled touches: 0.8
Average passes: 56.8 – 4th
Crosses: 0.5 – 5th
PREMIER LEAGUE POSITION
Tackles – 80th
Key passes – 57th
Dribbles – 32nd
Dispossessed – 92nd
Unskilled touches – 143rd
Average passes – 34th
Touches 344 – 12th (leads United)
Pretty impressive, huh? But after several seasons spent in the wilderness at Old Trafford, foraging for both form and confidence, how does Shaw compare to the elite at his position?
For a comparison, we’re saying Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson is the Premier League’s best left-back overall. And here is how Shaw stands up to the Scot:
Appearances 4 4
Goals 1 0
Assists 0 2
Shots 8 1
On target 4 0
Chances created 0 3
Passes 227 257
Pass completion 83.26 87.16
Passes forward 77 66
Passes backwards 38 46
Touches 344 326
Crosses 9 8
Dispossessed 4 2
Blocks 1 0
Interceptions 6 4
Tackles 7 12
Tackles won 2 10
Clearances 14 3
Aerials won 7 1