Why it is too early to write off Man Utd’s title hopes – Phil Neville

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Why it is too early to write off Man Utd’s title hopes – Phil Neville

Manchester United made a disastrous start against Chelsea on Sunday – and got worse as the game went on.

From what I saw from United in their 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, I don’t think they are anywhere near the level that their manager Jose Mourinho wants them to be at, and it will probably take them a lot more time to get there.

But what I would add is that they have come out of a period of tough games, and they are going into a spell where their fixtures look a lot more winnable. Mourinho said so himself afterwards.

The next few weeks are an important time for them because you don’t win the league by beating the clubs around you – you win it by beating everyone else.

That is what United have to do now, and they have to be more ruthless because draws will not be enough – for me, when they were held at home by Stoke at the start of October, it was almost as disappointing as Sunday’s defeat.

In the next few weeks, United are at home to Arsenal but also play Burnley, Swansea and West Ham. Even if they only win those three games, then their world is a brighter place.

Yes, United need to go on a run to make up the ground they have lost but they are only six points off the top of the table and we have already seen things can change very quickly in the title race

After a great start, leaders Manchester City have gone three games without a win and look like they have lost confidence. I don’t see a side playing with any rhythm or fluidity.

And it looked like Tottenham’s victory over City had launched their season – but they have drawn both their league games since.

It is one of those years where there is not going to be a runaway winner, so United just have to stay in touch at the top.

How Conte’s Chelsea have turned things around

What Chelsea have done recently is an example of why it is far too early to write United’s season off.

After the first six games of the season, which saw them struggle defensively and lose to Liverpool and Arsenal, I was wondering what their new manager Antonio Conte was doing. His team looked like the same old Chelsea who struggled last year.

But then Conte changed to the 3-5-2 formation that has brought him such success with Juventus and Italy, and they have not looked back.

In three games since, against Hull, Leicester and now United they have scored nine goals, kept three clean sheets and picked up nine points.

All of a sudden, their forward players are playing with freedom – plus they have a solid foundation behind them with their three centre-halves plus N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in midfield.

Hazard in particular has benefited because he is taking up much better positions and is having a greater effect on games for the full 90 minutes because the defensive responsibility is totally off him.

United fail to repeat Anfield defensive display

While Chelsea look like they have found the formation and system that suits them, United are still searching for theirs.

It looked like they might have found it against Liverpool at Anfield on Monday night when they were hard to beat, solid, aggressive and a threat going forward.

They still created chances against Chelsea on Sunday but pretty much everything else went out of the window – they were opened up far too easily and did not have the same aggression.

While Monday’s 0-0 draw was a fantastic defensive performance, where United looked like they wanted to defend and enjoyed it, against Chelsea they did neither.

Conceding the first goal after only 30 seconds killed their game-plan but they made things worse after that by trying to chase the game.

Instead of being hard to break down it looked like they were trying to play their way out of trouble and it played into Chelsea’s hands.

The Blues were not bothered about United having more possession because they knew the more they had of the more ball, the wider open they would be when they hit them on the counter-attack.

As the game went on, United took too many chances at the back and looked extremely vulnerable.

They became ragged and their players lost concentration, which is something you would never normally associate with a Mourinho side, and Chelsea’s third goal epitomised United’s poor defensive display.

Yes, it was a good pass from Nemanja Matic to give Eden Hazard the chance to take on Chris Smalling inside the area but you would not normally find those gaps.

So, I am not surprised that the biggest thing Mourinho was disappointed about afterwards was the mistakes that led to all four of Chelsea’s goals.

It is not as though the Blues continuously opened United up. Cut out those errors, and it would have been a much tighter game.