Manchester United’s win over Arsenal was tainted by the loss of Pogba after he was dismissed late on for an apparent stamp on Hector Bellerin. United saw out the remainder of the game with 10 men but now must face league leaders Manchester City next weekend without the Frenchman.
No doubt Manchester City spent most of their defensive preparations for the West Ham game running through the Hammers’ set-piece playbook in their video analysis sessions, but they still broke through.
As was the case at Barcelona, and even at times at Bayern Munich, corners remain Pep Guardiola’s Achilles heel and he is only too happy to admit it.
Naturally, given his preference for diminutive players, set-pieces can be a real headache when the opposition is full of blockers. Not to mention those dreaded second balls.
But, rather than spending endless hours running through drills on the training field, Guardiola encourages a more simplistic approach: limiting the amount of set-pieces you give the opposition, whether it is corners, free-kicks or even throw-ins.
“We spoke a lot about defending set-pieces but they are taller. It will happen again next week against United so we have to try and concede fewer set-pieces.”
Despite only giving away 14 corners against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham, City still conceded two goals resulting from set-pieces.
And the other? A hit in hope cross from old favourite Nathan Redmond that somehow found its way back into the box for Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu to fire home.
That will give United encouragement. Jose Mourinho may have not landed coveted target Ivan Perisic, who delivered more crosses than any other player in Serie A, let alone the Premier League, last season, but United have been dominant at set-pieces this season, scoring eight league goals.
Without Pogba, his team’s style changes as well as the dynamic. That link between defence and attack is not really there and Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini/Herrera are not going to necessarily try to beat the man or look to swing the ball into space.
But, as we saw in Moscow, allbeit against a terrible side, a cohesive United playing three at the back can hurt a team in devastating fashion – even without Pogba.