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When the signings of both Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were confirmed, alongside the purchase of the promising Henrikh Mkhitaryan Manchester United supporters might have been forgiven for thinking that the attacking riches they once called upon under Sir Alex Ferguson had finally returned.
How things have transpired so differently.
None of the club’s marquee names have had any positive impact on their Premier League proceedings and up against an in-form Chelsea side this Sunday at Stamford Bridge the visitors could run into serious trouble.
Will their goal-scorers be able to finally deliver in the league as they did against Fenerbahce in Europe?
Let’s take a look.
Liverpool clash exposed Mourinho’s negativity
Simply put, United’s 4-1 triumph over the Turkish club during midweek was nothing more than a team full of stars swatting aside a below-par outfit that will struggle to get out of their group – they should be beating them.
Besides, the 13-time Premier League champions didn’t really get into their swagger until Dick Advocaat’s men gave away two penalties.
Doing likewise against opponents of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City’s stature is a totally different story as we saw when they travelled to Anfield and conjured next to nothing in attack.
They are playing far too negatively, and while Mourinho continues to insist that Pogba and some of the others need time to gel and get into their stride on a consistent basis, it already looks as though they are likely to continue shirking gung-ho, exciting football for the foreseeable future.
Rashford, Ibrahimovic need better service
Wayne Rooney made an improved return to the starting line-up on the continental stage with a couple of decent assists, but anyone who thinks that the England international is back to his best need only remind themselves just how poor he has been in recent months – and that age is not on his side anymore.
It may be a blessing in disguise that Rooney will need to be rested more and more from now on.
The regulars need to step up and start feeding Ibrahimovic and Rashford with better balls.
Juan Mata was one of United’s stand-out performers against Fenerbahce but his influence waned dramatically in the second half and he’ll need to ensure he doesn’t do that against Chelsea, should he feature.
Chelsea love to counter attack so United’s defensive inclinations will be a good shield to use, but when they do attack they’ll need to get it right and capitalise with perfect passing and clinical finishing.
If they really want to re-join the big boys, these are the matches they need to earn maximum points from.
Red Devils will need to shackle Kante
His gameplay has been altered slightly under Antonio Conte, but N’Golo Kante has really started coming into his own over the course of the last three to four games.
He remains a ball-winning dynamo, but the France international has added a really exciting edge to his game moving forward, and yet still has the presence of mind to know when to offload possession to the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Victor Moses.
He missed a great chance against Leicester City, but was on hand to superbly assist Victor Moses, so although his approach still needs polishing he is one of Chelsea’s best players right now.
United will need to be sharp on the ball because the diminutive man only needs a split-second to rob you when he’s in the mood, and that could certainly limit his involvement.
Moreover, the odd cynical foul may well need to be committed to stop him linking the Blues’ defence to attack.
Cutting him out of the game won’t be easy but if they manage it, they’ll be spread less thinly and will be able to get into more of a rhythm when moving forward in search of goals.
Written by Trevor Murray
Follow Trevor on Twitter @TrevorM90
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