Reaction from this evening’s game in the Champions League.
The shot statistics may present the idea of a game dominated by the home team but this was as comfortable as Manchester United could have wanted. In some respects. In some respects it was the classic away performance in Europe. In some…
That tells half the story. A better United team would have punished this Sevilla side. And what feels like a good result might not necessarily be – a goalless draw leaves this tie in the balance.
Raising The (Pog) Bar
Eyebrows were inevitably raised by the team selection. Paul Pogba was not in the squad in the weekend’s FA Cup game after apparently declaring himself to be too unwell. So to be well enough to travel and train and then be in the squad tonight, it was deemed ludicrous that he wasn’t in the starting eleven.
Most journalists took the 70 minutes between the announcement of the team and kick-off to pen early obituaries about the relationship between Pogba and United, mk II. The name ‘Beckham’ was brought up as a generational reference.
It all seems a massive over-reaction. A month ago, nobody was talking about Pogba being disappointing this season. Two poor games and he’s back to being a flop. One show of discipline from the manager – reminding his player who picks the team – and his exit route is already being mapped out in the press.
Are these the early days of discontent? Possibly, but just as easily, it could be another classic overstatement.
The wing-back experiment
One of our ‘critical difference’ arguments on the podcast has centred around the full-backs, and, specifically, playing veteran wingers at that position.
Mostly, United get away with it. Their defenders are expected to attack. The reason for their backwards migration in the side, let us not forget, is for their faltering contribution to the attack. So Valencia’s crossing ‘success’ is probably acceptable for a wing back.
The major issue was always going to come as their ability regressed or the quality and standard of games became greater. In the last five minutes of the first half, Valencia stood off an opponent in the penalty area giving him plenty of time to have a shot. Then Young horrendously misjudged a ball and United were hugely fortunate to get away with it. With a more punishing opponent United may have lost two goals.
United’s last Champions League knock out game in this country featured a masterclass from David De Gea. He was at it again tonight, with his save on the stroke of half-time sure to go down as one of the very best in his, and the club’s, history.
As early as the game away against Stoke City, we voiced our concern that Romelu Lukaku seemed to struggle with scoring easier chances. It’s similarly early, maybe too early, to look at Alexis Sanchez and wonder where United are going to get the best out of him, but it doesn’t seem as if the manager has an answer yet.
The former Arsenal player’s arrival has come at the cost of Martial and Rashford playing, with the pair’s early season form in competition being a highlight of United’s attacking play. Now with game time at a premium we are likely to see what we saw tonight – both trying too hard in their cameo appearances to stake a claim for a first team place. Forgivable and understandable but yet another sign of individuals where United need a team.
This time last year United had the beginnings of looking like a Mourinho team. They look unlike a team at all at the moment.