Reaction from today’s game.
We have been defensive of Jose Mourinho and we still feel he is the right man for the job. Even writing something like that seems like prematurely suggesting otherwise.
All that said, and all variations considered, and despite a penalty that should have been awarded in the first half, this was just about the worst performance United have put in under their Portuguese manager. Southampton came to Manchester having shipped five goals to Spurs and never looked in trouble here. United lacked any urgency and were not helped by the horrendous quality of crossing.
Mourinho doesn’t escape criticism because this is now his squad and more is expected. Martin Keown was very knee-jerk with his reaction, saying Mourinho ‘lost the players’ today. We’ll talk a little about that in a moment, but here we are – we do defend Mourinho by and large, and we give him a free pass in terms of challenging this City team this season. But he needs to bridge the gap and that is more about ignoring what is happening across the city and focussing on United’s own failings.
At present, much better is expected. Mourinho insisted that he wasn’t disappointed with his player’s desire but he must have been.
Wheat From The Chaff
Today’s result was somewhat inconsequential to the bigger picture in terms of United’s league aspirations for the 2017/8 season. They won’t win the league, and first is first and second is nowhere, so to speak; so win, lose, or draw against Southampton, it doesn’t really matter.
And yet it does. Mourinho had first season grace last season with most recognising most of the issues he had were ones he had inherited but as we can tell by the press climate, there is no such security for him this season, even if most rational thinking Reds agree with most of what he has been saying over the past week or so.
Christmas 2015, United were in with a close enough shout of challenging for the league for the finger to be pointed at some of the players. Louis van Gaal lost his job as a consequence of a failed challenge exacerbated by the identity of the winners. Christmas 2016 and United were in with a close enough shout of challenging for the league but their inability to break down stubborn opponents at home did for their title challenge, with draws against Stoke, Burnley, Arsenal, West Ham, Liverpool, Hull, Bournemouth, West Brom, Everton and Swansea City at Old Trafford – all of who showed little to no ambition – proving costly. Those twenty dropped points meant Jose Mourinho used the last league fixtures as little more than glorified training sessions.
United will not win the league this season but Mourinho should use the remaining five months to analyse the players who continue to let the club down and be ruthless in his decision making in the summer. By and large his recruitment has been fine (one notable example, of course) and we should take into account that saying he has to get rid of the deadwood means being able to replace them in the squad, but there are a few players who should be on notice. If they allow their standard to slip now the title has gone and accept top four as their achievement, they should be sold to Arsenal or Liverpool where that kind of performance is acceptable.
A few weeks ago a convincing case could be made for United’s progress as they were clearly second best, and that at least signified a marked development from recent years. They are getting sucked back into the ‘Champions League qualification case’ and if that’s how this season turns out, it will be an absolute embarrassment.
What more needs to be said? We know enough about Matteo Darmian, we know enough about Chris Smalling. Each and every performance only serves to highlight these player’s incompatibility with a top class Manchester United team. In many ways Mkhitaryan is the prime example; the defining line, that type of player who is good enough to score the winning goal in the Europa League final but unfortunately the sort who simply cannot star in a United team challenging for the very best trophies.
James Robson of the MEN described Romelu Lukaku’s miss before he came off as unforgivable. That was very harsh and let’s be fair, this is no time to be writing off the Belgian or to be suggesting that his unfortunate injury may be of benefit for a United team in urgent need of fluidity, imagination and fear in their front line. Because Lukaku at his best brings all of those qualities.
But Lukaku at his worst was becoming a passenger and having just alleviated themselves of a striker who was constantly excused for one reason or another despite bringing nothing to the team, United cannot afford to have replaced him with another.
Here’s the difference between United and City; United can’t afford to dispose of Lukaku and replace him with a more costly player (if they wish to seriously strengthen the other areas of the squad in more urgent need) and so his return from injury feels necessary, if only because of how United resembled the toothless side who drew so many home teams last season as soon as he went off. But they will need a Lukaku in form in order to look any better.