Sunday Night Takeaway: Newcastle 1-0 Man Utd

in Match Coverage/News by

Reaction from United’s latest defeat.

Stats!

The match statistics will show that Manchester United ended this game with a flurry of corners, putting pressure on the Newcastle goal. The reality was very different.

Their response to going behind was absolutely dismal and their corner taking in those latter stages was so horrendous that you got the impression that the home defenders were happy to kick it out.

You can’t build castles on quicksand…

…and top points if you can guess which Peter Engel-produced, West Coast 90’s American teen show that was from.

There were a few thousand Manchester United fans in St. James’ Park. A few million more around the world watching the game on high definition television. Nobody had a better seat in the house for Newcastle’s goal than Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. They even had standing tickets, and stand they did.

The defending for the goal was awful, but it had been coming after a shaky defensive performance. We can, and do, say that every week.

What did Jose Mourinho learn against Tottenham that meant this collection of defenders should take to the pitch in another game?

A team of individuals

United’s stuttering winter form was punctuated by some good away displays; the main highlight of that was the combination play between Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba. I’m giving Paul Pogba a pass this week – only because of injury – and only temporarily.

Alexis Sanchez’s arrival has meant Jose Mourinho put him into the team at the expense of Mata or Lingard. It was Mata who missed out. Sanchez was decent, but then, many of United’s players showed flashes of quality in isolation. The issue comes when trying to match up that moment of quality with a team-mate, and at no point did that result in anything productive at St. James’ Park.

Mourinho had a winning system, and a system which looked its best up at Goodison Park. Why, just five weeks later, has that formula been ditched?

If the answer is ‘to accommodate Sanchez’ then surely that needs to be addressed. Yes, he is a quality player who needs to find a place, but the senseless of taking apart one of the few fluent areas of United’s team is proving very costly.

Micro climate

Now we can safely talk about reasonable expectation without using Manchester City as an example of what United should be achieving, we can at least look at what United have and whether or not they are making the most of it.

Are United performing above, or to, expectations? They are second in the league and have the second most vast resources, so to an extent. But within this season there is a tangible feeling that United can be doing much better than it feels, even if their ceiling would still be second.

This underwhelming feeling can be traced back to the draw at Anfield when many felt the hosts were there for the taking. We have cut Mourinho some slack as it was equally Jurgen Klopp’s responsibility to make a game out of it and never did. And when we look at how United set up at the Emirates we see what can be achieved if all the right attacking personnel are available.

‘Regression’ is a dirty word and I’m loathe to use it because of how it stains the rest of the point I’m trying to make, so let me preface this by saying, a) I think Jose Mourinho is the best man for the job at United and the right man, b) I think he’s a better manager than Guardiola and c) in terms of overall progress made at the club, there can be no doubting how United have moved forward under this manager.

Compared to a year ago, though, aren’t United starting to look like a bunch of players unfamiliar with each other? Perhaps that’s an inevitable outcome of playing a veteran right winger at right back, a veteran left winger at left back, a striker on the left wing, a creative midfielder in a holding role, a left sided attacker in the number ten role, and a number ten on the right wing. Add to that Smalling and Jones and then ask yourself how many of those players are good enough and the answer is sobering.

With the resources United have we should be seeing better football. With the team Jose Mourinho chooses to put out on a weekly basis we should expect no different from the hit and miss football we are currently being ‘treated’ to.

Wayne Barton is an author and has worked with numerous Manchester United icons. He ghost wrote the autobiographies of Brian Greenhoff, Gordon Hill, Danny Higginbotham, Mick Duxbury and Clayton Blackmore. He is the football columnist for international broadcaster eirSport.

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