Reaction from tonight’s embarrassment.
You can remove comparisons about how bad it was under Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. You can even take into account the fact that United had some dreadful nights in European football under Sir Alex Ferguson, even at Old Trafford. This was a contender, all things considered, for one of the worst nights for the club in recent memory.
There was simply nothing redeeming on any level; ever the pragmatist, Jose Mourinho picked a side with the ambition of doing ‘just enough’. The only problem with doing that with this Manchester United squad is that it is an over-estimation of their quality, even against a team as relatively poor as Sevilla. It is an over-estimation of the capabilities of Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, and Marouane Fellaini; it is an over-estimation to continue to try and force a combination in attacking positions that isn’t fluid, particularly on an occasion where the time for testing should be over.
It sent out the wrong message from the off; United were protecting a 0-0 draw from the first leg, regardless of the frequency with which the defensive errors present in the team should have warned the manager that it wasn’t wise. It sent out the wrong message to the crowd, who were flat, and couldn’t even be energised for that ridiculously late and ridiculously feeble attempt at imitating the famous Manchester United comeback.
These are mostly aliens in Manchester United shirts. Failing in the Champions League, even at such an early stage, is no real disgrace for a club beginning its journey back to the ‘glory days’. It is, however, the manner in which the capitulation occurred that is, with no hyperbole, disgraceful. 2-1 flattered United.
Alexis Sanchez was played from the left to force him into the team. Unfortunately this meant two negatives – Sanchez is not at his best and was not at his best. It also meant the replacement of Marcus Rashford, completely derailing his momentum gained from Saturday. On the brief moments the youngster switched to the left, United looked at their (still poor) best.
Is there a positive to come from the debacle? Well, there’s a few more games to try and force something to happen, now that there is a relatively stress-free and low-key end to the season. But this does not feel like the end of the 2005/6 season, when Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney flourished and matured. Unlike Ibrahimovic, unlike Lukaku, there seems the real likelihood that Sanchez’s mere presence is holding United back. It’s up to the player to prove that wrong but when Rashford showed more in five minutes than the Chilean did in the other 85, it’s clear something isn’t right.
One observation we’ve made on the podcast lately is that after all that initial improvement, this side resembles less of a Mourinho side than it did a year ago. There is a regression and it is going to take some hard truths to resolve it. The question is, does Mourinho actually know what his best team is?
The bad gamble
…and Paul Pogba’s omission from the starting line-up suggested that all is still not right here. Was he unfit? Well, he didn’t look at the races. If this was a message from the manager to remind us all who’s boss, well, it was a gamble which backfired spectacularly. Perhaps we’ll only know by the start of the league next season but it seems real enough to have real concerns.
The big occasion
Doesn’t it all seem a bit stupid? Shouldn’t we want for more? At least now we can concentrate on the race to ensure Champions League qualification. And for what? Another underwhelming exit last year? It feels… I don’t know… too Arsenal. Too Liverpool. The ambition has to be greater. We’re willing to give Jose Mourinho the benefit of the doubt but it is time to start asking questions.