To Pep, Love From Lukaku: Guardiola’s Early Xmas Present

Manchester United

Three For MUFC: Three things that Manchester United should or shouldn’t do over the coming week.

It’s taken a while for the dust to settle in the McNicoll household. The derby defeat to Manchester City was certainly a bitter pill to swallow. Two goals from set pieces (more on that later), were the undoing of United, on their own patch.

Old Trafford saw its first defeat in over a year. 40 matches to be precise. A record equalled to the original achievement, back in 1966. The last team to walk away from OT with three points? Yep, you guessed it… Manchester City. Last year the same as this. Both 2-1 defeats to the Blue half of Manchester.

I am going to keep this introduction short and sweet as I feel I need to pace around the room a few times, readying myself for a Neil Warnock style half-time rant. The hair dryer is about to be turned on.

For any of our readers who are of a younger persuasion, you may want to look away now……

The following fixtures are on this weeks’ calendar.

13th December: Home – Bournemouth 

17th December: Away – West Bromwich Albion

1 – Ander Herrera Is Bang Average

For some time now I have thought that Ander Herrera is nothing more than a squad player at best. His performances this season have cemented that thought in my mind. Both times this season when Paul Pogba has been unavailable for selection, Herrera has come in and done absolutely nothing. Last season Herrera was in favour and looked to have a role in what Jose Mourinho was trying to achieve. The league had gone well before Xmas, a bit like now, but Herrera was used to try and nullify the opposition rather than as an attacking threat. The amount of free kicks the Spaniard gives away is ridiculous. All he does is run around a lot.  He dives in, very recklessly, instead of jockeying the opponent into making a mistake. This happens time and time again and quite frankly it pisses me off. The free kick which led to City’s second goal, was given away because of Herrera’s inability to control himself in a pressure situation. Last season Herrera was given the job of man marking Eden Hazard. He was sent off in the first half at Stamford Bridge for two silly bookings, yet come the home game, Hazard having an off day was more the reason rather than Herrera doing a “job” on the Belgian. The problem is Mourinho doesn’t trust Juan Mata to come into the midfield. Mata, probably the most creative player left in the squad after Pogba, has had to make do with cameos lately. Herrera, you had your time to shine and all you have done is show that you are in fact a fraud.

2 – Romelu Lukaku Benched

After a whirlwind start to his Manchester United career, Romelu Lukaku’s form has dipped so bad, turning him into a player who is unrecognisable from the man who couldn’t stop scoring in August/September. The fact that Lukaku was more dangerous in his own penalty area than the oppositions. Now we all know that Jose Mourinho is a height supremacist. Most of the players brought in to play for United are well over 6ft tall, making them dangerous in the opposition’s area and pretty handy in their own box. This was of course until last week, away at Arsenal. Every cross or corner into United’s box last week caused absolute mayhem. A panic not seen in a penalty area since the Dog ‘n’ Duck played the Red lion, on a dog shit infested recreation ground. Romelu Lukaku, defending a corner away at Arsenal last weekend, swung his right leg at a cross to clear his lines, missing, with the ball hitting his standing leg and forcing a smart save down to his left-hand post by the brilliant David De Gea. Fast forward a week. A corner again into United’s box and again the big Belgian is stood ball watching. Otamendi getting the run on him to nod down to an unmarked David Silva, who couldn’t believe his luck.

Ten minutes into the second half and champion defender Lukaku strikes again. A free kick (given away by good old Herrera) was floated into the far post, where an unmarked Lukaku, smashes his volley straight into the back of Chris Smalling (who else!) and ricocheted to Nicolas Otamendi, who like Silva before him, couldn’t believe that Xmas had come early. Four minutes later, Lukaku had the chance to redeem himself. A low cross finding the Belgian from three yards out, put on a plate to rescue the Red Devils, except unlike earlier when Rom had scuffed his clearance, he caught this so sweetly, maybe too sweet, that it smashed the keeper straight into the neck. Mata followed up, only for the keeper to make another smart stop. The time is up for Lukaku to be given a rest. Ibrahimovic could make his first start. Or maybe move Rashford or Tony Martial up top.

While I am on the subject, Chris Smalling. Jesus Christ. If you get the chance, look at City’s second goal again in slow motion. When the cross comes in from the free kick, Smalling is just holding the City play, like in an actual bear hug. Not moving or looking at the ball. Once Lukaku smashes the ball, Smalling has no idea where it is until it hits him. Dropping into the path of match winner, Otamendi. Heres an idea Smalling you bell, how about defending properly, getting touch tight and watching the ball. And these are professionals.

3 – Shit Or Bust

When the team was announced for the derby, Reds all over social media were working themselves into a frenzy. A front four of Messi Lingard, Rashford, Martial and Lukaku. All the signs were leading to United springing an all-out attack on the City goal. How wrong we all were. Jose Mourinho clearly doesn’t get what Manchester United is all about. Now before you think I am overreacting after a defeat, hear me out. We were spoiled in the last 25 years with a manager who time after time defied his critics and the challenges of new managers, and built teams which dominated both domestically and on the European front. These teams were built around a 4-4-2 formation, with one of the strikers dropping into the hole, and were set up in a way in which was said, this is our team, we will play this way and if your very lucky, you might just beat us.

I once went to a gentleman’s evening which was held by Nobby Stiles. He told the room that Sir Matt Busby would tell the players to go out and enjoy what they were doing. He said that if the opposition scored two, then we could score three. It really was that simple.

Brian Clough was the same while at Nottingham Forest. He set his teams up the same every week and if the opponents beat them, then he accepted that they were better on the day. The problem I have with Jose Mourinho, and by the way I think he is an amazing coach, is that he worries about the opponents first, instead of trying to impose himself on the game. Now at the beginning of the season everything was rosy in the garden. United were dominating teams, especially at home. Once Mourinho faces a team in the top five, its a situation of lockdown. United’s forwards were pinned so far back by City that when they eventually won the ball, they had no way of getting out. Except by shelling it up to the isolated Lukaku.

This kind of play is not acceptable at Old Trafford. For United to play like the away team was bang out of order. It was like we had accepted that City were the superior side. I remember games when United would go away to Liverpool and Arsenal and lose by two or three goals, but the philosophy was always the same. Attack and take chances. This Jose team is restrained, in a docile fashion. The away game at Arsenal was exactly how an away team should play. Luckily for United, De Gea was on fire that day. He can’t save them every week though. It was like Mourinho had given up on the title. I would rather have had a go at City and lost 3-0 than lost 2-1 by trying to play on the break at home. I am sorry Jose, but you really don’t get United at all.

The natives will soon grow restless unless Jose Mourinho can come into a big game with all guns blazing, but as we know, the chances of that happening are about as the same as Chris Smalling being sold in January.

I can live in hope! Glory Glory Man United.

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.