Sunday 22 July 2018

Sanchez opens account but United less than flush with ideas

Manchester United 2 Huddersfield Town 0

Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first Manchester United goal. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first Manchester United goal. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Paul Wilson

The good news for Manchester United is that Manchester City's lead has been cut to 13 points. The bad news, apart from the fact that 13 points is still a lot, is that this performance was not a vast improvement on the one against Tottenham at Wembley in midweek. While Huddersfield were overcome in the end they were hardly put to the sword, and though the points were welcome United would not frighten any of their top-four rivals playing like this.

Considering José Mourinho now believes he has an unimprovable front line the wow factor is taking its time to return to Old Trafford. Long stretches of the first half were positively stodgy, with most of the game passing Romelu Lukaku by and Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard only occasionally looking threatening.

While the one-man entertainment industry that is Alexis Sánchez was eye-catching throughout, it was not always in a good way. The way he made space for a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area that forced a scrambling save from Jonas Lössl was sublime, as were a couple of his passes to Mata and Antonio Valencia. Yet he ended the first half furious that the referee had not awarded him a free-kick in the middle of the pitch and lost his cool to the extent that he was booked in stoppage time for an unnecessary foul on Florent Hadergjonaj.

Huddersfield were much more solid than they had been in losing at home to Liverpool in midweek, though they were lucky to reach the interval level after the referee, Stuart Attwell, somehow failed to see Terence Kongolo's blatant barge into Scott McTominay as a penalty. McTominay fell awkwardly and hurt himself but managed to struggle on, as one might expect of a player selected ahead of Paul Pogba.

Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez (left) and Huddersfield Town's Rajiv van La Parra battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Manchester United's Alexis Sanchez (left) and Huddersfield Town's Rajiv van La Parra battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

It looked as if the home side might have an easy afternoon when Sánchez helped send Lingard clear after eight minutes to bring the first save of the afternoon from Lössl, yet it was a false impression. Huddersfield defended well and United rarely summoned that attacking fluency again.

They did take the lead early in the second half, however, capitalising on a the visitors giving the ball away in their own half. Nemanja Matic lost no time in finding Mata in space on the left, and his cross gave Lukaku something to attack for the first time in the game. The striker was alert enough to seize his opportunity, sticking out a foot to beat Christopher Schindler to the ball and send a shot into Lössl's bottom corner.

United breathed a little easier after that, with Mourinho relaxed enough to send on first Pogba and then Marcus Rashford. Between the substitutions the lead was increased, Sánchez first winning a penalty against the slightly unlucky Michael Hefele, seeing his spot kick saved but tucking away the rebound to register his first United goal on his home debut.

The Chilean deserved it, if only for the number of times he was fouled. Just about all of the Huddersfield back line had a go, and while there was nothing especially nasty or dangerous it was a tedious spectacle that referees will need to keep an active eye on. Anyone who did not know better might have formed the conclusion that Sánchez earns his prodigious wages for constantly picking himself up off the grass. Observer

Huddersfield Town's Laurent Depoitre (left) and Manchester United's Luke Shaw battle for the ball at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Huddersfield Town's Laurent Depoitre (left) and Manchester United's Luke Shaw battle for the ball at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

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