Mourinho and Lukaku must improve their big game record to catch up with Manchester City
Manchester United risk conceding the title to Manchester City if both Jose Mourinho and Romelu Lukaku don't improve their big game record
Right from the beginning of August, this season's Premier League title race was being dubbed as a two-horse race between the two Manchester Clubs. The work done by the two clubs in the transfer window was the major reason behind this.
Manchester United had just spent €165m on Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic from fellow rivals Chelsea. These two were added to a side already featuring Paul Pogba, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly who were only signed last summer for a combined 185m. Manchester City, on the other hand, spent a whopping €249m this summer on players, a record in a single transfer window.
Their major signings included fullbacks - Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker. Goalkeeper Ederson was signed from Benfica again for a €40m fee-- a record sum for a goalkeeper. Bernardo Silva, the Ligue 1 Player of the Season last term was also signed to provide much-needed depth to the already formidable Manchester City attack consisting of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Leroy Sane.
It's only the start of December now but it already looks like Manchester City have already eliminated Manchester United from the title race. The Pep Guardiola side sit eight points clear atop the league table having scored 12 more goals than their city rivals and are currently on a 12 match winning streak in the league.
United fans shouldn't lose all hope though as Chelsea won the title in a similar fashion last season having slipped eight points behind the leaders after just six games.
There's another one big reason though which makes City not just favourites but the only candidates for this season's title race. It's their performances and results against their fellow top 6 rivals. City, so far, have played three games against the fellow top 6. They have not only won those three games but also thrashed their opponents scoring 9 goals and conceding just once.
That is 9 points collected out of 9. The next best record in this top 6 mini league is held by Chelsea who have collected eight points but have played two games more. Manchester United have only collected four points from their three games against the fellow top 6. The worrying thing though is that United have scored only one goal in those three games.
Since his second stint with Chelsea Mourinho has always been accused of how he sets his teams up in the big games. Normally in such games, his team just sit back with nine or ten men behind the ball, isolating the striker and looking only to capitalise from an opposition mistake or from set pieces.
The one goal scored in the three big games so far is nothing new. Go back to his time with Chelsea and there's certainly a big reason to fear for United fans. The record is more worrying if you consider only away games against the top 6.
Since the beginning of April 2015, across two clubs in Mourinho's record in his last 10 away games against the fellow top 6 teams reads as:
0-0, 3-0, 0-0, 0-0, 4-0, 0-0, 2-0, 2-1, 0-0, 1-0
"Once the master of the big games, Mourinho seems to have lost what made him special."
That's certainly not the record you want if you have ambitions of winning the title. Four 0-0 draws, zero wins and only one goal scored in those four away games. United's next two games are against Arsenal (away) and Manchester City (home).
They can't afford another result of the same kind even in one of those two games given the way City are going. Slip up in the away game against Arsenal and City's lead at the top could stretch to 10 or 11 points. Even a draw at Old Trafford on December 10 would be a win for Guardiola.
Speaking after United's 0-0 draw in October vs Liverpool Jamie Carragher said as much that he has no problems with Mourinho's defensive displays, but says his results against the top sides could cost MUFC the title.
On Saturday against Arsenal, Mourinho must send out his players to play football rather than just sit back. He must show his players that he believes in being able to put away the best sides as on their day his players are good enough to beat anyone in the world.
Mourinho isn't the only man though who needs to prove his big game credentials. Romelu Lukaku also been much maligned about going missing in the big games and if you look at the record then the criticism isn't quite unfair.
The image above shows Lukaku's record against the big 6 before the start of this season. In this season, he has added three games to that record but hasn't managed to improve his goal tally. Alvaro Morata, who was seen as a direct competitor for Romelu Lukaku, scoring against Manchester United didn't help matters either.
In Lukaku's defence, you might say that he was playing for Everton before this season. Playing for a big club like United might provide him more opportunities to score. But you can't defend that record when you see Gulfy Sigurrdson, Christian Benteke, John Walters and Peter Crouch also have a better record against the big 6. Lukaku's former teammate Steven Naismith also features in that list.
Lukaku was signed for 90m this summer. He was seen as the man who would lead Manchester United into the new era along with Paul Pogba. The more he fails to deliver in the big games, the more he'll be criticised for his price tag.
It probably has come to a point where his performance alone won't matter. He has to score too and win those games for Manchester United if they want to garnish any hopes of beating Manchester City to the title.
Compare Lukaku's record to that of Sergio Aguero who is City's main man-- who has 19 goals in his last 27 games against the big 6 and it's clear how much of an edge Manchester City have. Aguero's experience having won the title twice previously with City and his having played multiple seasons of Champions League football will also help.