It was always a matter of time but finally Jose Mourinho and United’s luck ran out on last Tuesday night. A season that started so brightly is slowly fizzing out to a possible FA Cup success, although the semi final draw have done them few favours. United could have been handed a much harder tie in the last 16 but avoided Real Madrid and Juventus and when Sevilla were drawn out, the majority thought it was a great chance to reach the quarter finals. Over the 2 legs there was nothing to suggest the Spanish outfit was anything more than average, the problem was, United were bordering on mediocre and the right team qualified for the quarter final stages of the competition. It came as no real shock to me as thus United side have been poor for some time.
Liverpool victory seems a long time ago.
The win over Liverpool now seems a distant memory and just like the Chelsea and Crystal Palace results, was merely a papering over of the cracks. In truth, that has been the story of the season, one that has been totally justified to most, due to the club sitting in 2nd and scoring more goals and points than last season. If United had finished 3rd last season I could understand but let’s not forget Mourinho’s side finished down in 6th. If they had less points and goals than last season then Mourinho would be out the door by now, but let’s not kid ourselves, it was not difficult to improve on last season’s league finish.
Some will say that League Cup and Europa League success last season shows the club is moving forward and credit where it is due, but neither competition is particularly high on anyone’s priorities. For the top sides, any run in the League Cup is a bonus and generally the fringe players and youth team are utilised until at least the quarter or semi final, so there is an element of luck involved with how far you get. In the final, United were far and away second best to Southampton and easily could have been beaten. The run to the Europa League final was as easy as you could have asked, with the opposition in United’s path of a poor standard and if they bad failed to win the competition, there would have been serious questions asked about the squad. Much like this season, those 2 successes were used to deflect away from what was in the main a really poor performing side under Mourinho.
The other factor to keep in mind is that they have spent a obscene amount of money this season with £90 million going on a striker. The least you would expect is a better return on goals. Add the defensive improvements made and the January signing of Alexis Sanchez, this United squad is strong and should be improving on last season.
They have been poor for a while
But have they really improved? Forget league position, points and goals scored, especially as over one third of the current league goals tally came in the opening 7 games of the season. Against the top 6, United got taught a lesson at home to City and probably will in the away fixture in a few weeks time. They were dismantled defensively by Arsenal and without David De Gea producing one of the best goalkeeping displays in recent memory, they would have had an embarrassing afternoon at the Emirates. At Stamford Bridge they were played off the park, barely looking threatening in the process and for 45 minutes at Old Trafford it was the same story. Barring an incorrect offside call, Chelsea would have come away with a deserved draw. The trip to Anfield, which probably sparked the start of the negative displays, saw United completely defend their way to a 0-0 with zero attacking intent and it was a similar story last Saturday as a decent opening 45 minutes was nearly for nothing as Liverpool completely dominated in the second half. Finally, against Spurs, they got very lucky to beat them at home in a pretty poor affair that was again defensive and then they got utterly ripped to pieces at Wembley where if the scoreline had reached 5 or 6 there could not have been a complaint. The biggest worry that seems to be looked over, is that I do not remember any period in any of those top 6 clashes, where United dominated or controlled the game and if anyone thinks differently then they need to go an re-evaluate which sport they should be following. Other than a couple of decent away performances at Leicester and Everton, United have struggled their way to a win or draw but time and again they have got what they fully deserve, absolutely diddly squat.
The game on Tuesday reminded me of so many other performances this season, so why it seemed to come across as a surprise to some people is beyond me. Steven Gerrard suggested it was a one off and “one of those nights”. Well Mr Gerrard, you obviously haven’t watched very closely because I can assure you it was not a one off. Newcastle away, Spurs away, Bristol City away, Crystal Palace away (for 75 minutes) are 4 just off the top of my head just this year, now add the 2 legs against Sevilla and it is proof that this United side is being set up incorrectly and not playing to the attacking potential it possesses.
Not just a knee jerk reaction.
There is a consensus that there was no complaint of the style of play following the victory over Liverpool, and that the reaction to the Champions League performance was knee jerk. I agree to a point as success will always bring a slight let up on the negativity, but let’s be frank, the Liverpool performance was hardly scintillating football and United have been poor for months so the knee jerk reaction excuse is laughable. United looked dangerous on the break in the first half and they defended very well against a brilliant, high scoring Liverpool team, but anyone who thought it was a good performance are simply deluded.
Mourinho has consistently set his team up to defend first and attack when able to, rather than using the huge attacking talent he has at his disposal. United have not blown any team away for months, and even in those opening games where the scoreline looked like a hammering, in most they were close until the final few minutes. When he chooses to play Marouane Fellaini over Juan Mata in any game, it is hard to have any sympathy for Mourinho, but when the big Belgian has been out for months and had just 20 minutes against Liverpool under his belt, it becomes even harder to stomach. When Rashford looks your best attacking outlet against Liverpool and then is shunted out to the right to make way for Fellaini and the ever fading Alexis Sanchez, you have to question the manager’s tactical sanity. In Mourinho’s defence, it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference had he started Rashford on the left, as he had his side set up so defensively that he could have had Messi and Ronaldo on the wings and the result would have been exactly the same.
Special one to the Tinkering one
When the “special one” was mentioned as Louis Van Gaal’s appointment, I was not one of those who was jumping up and down with joy. I have never been a fan of him, but what he did bring wass a winning mentality which is something the club have not had since Sir Elx left. Looking back at his success with Chelsea and other teams, he always found a way to win but what he also did with all of his sides is where possible play a consistent starting 11. At Chelsea, you could almost pick his first 11 for the big games and made very few changes if any for the games against lower opposition. Consistency is something that is now so obvious in the dominant City team where barring maybe a change at full back, the side would be made up of the same 11 players as the week before and look at the confidence and fluidity they play with. At United, Mourinho has had 2 seasons to bring in his own players and still he has not got a clue who should make his best side, I am not even convinced he knows his best formation. If you spend the money he has on certain individuals you would expect that he would have them playing in their strongest position. But what he has at United is a team of individuals and that is so obvious when you see them play. Very rarely does he play with the same front 3 and he mixes up his midfield a lot other around the ever present Nemanja Matic so it is no surprise that the side is performing so badly in attack.
Predictable football with a predictable outcome.
Under Mourinho, United have become predictable in the way they will set up and try to beat the opposition. Against the lower sides you expect a squad that has been built with millions of pounds to win regardless of how a manager sets them up, but they have struggled to do that the majority of the time. Mourinho has ridden his luck all season and managed to pull out wins and big wins at that, when needed, which could be seen as a sign of a top manager. But, as I started this article saying, it was only a matter of time until his luck ran out and against Sevilla that time may have come. The cracks have been there for some time and now they are glaringly opening wider with every day that passes. His 12 minute attack in the Brighton press conference followed by the umpteenth episode of unfair criticism of Luke Shaw are the first signs that he is feeling the pressure of being United manager.
After the Sevilla defeat there is now a growing list of supporters who once were very much pro Jose, but now are maybe questioning his position at the club and rumours of possible outgoings of club favourites in the summer will do nothing to calm the increasing unrest surrounding the club. Mourinho felt he was pushed out of Real Madrid by the Spanish press, but Manchester United and the English media is a complete other monster to deal with. As long as the performances remain as dull and predictable as they are, then the press will keep asking the same questions that has already pushed his buttons and maybe will also see him pushed out of the Old Trafford exit.