Points Over Performance for United

If ever Manchester United were going to lose a match this would have been the week to do it.  With the fallout from the Allardyce sacking saga reverberating through the football world, even Manchester United’s troubles would have taken second place to an English football corruption scandal.  So of course, United didn’t.

It wasn’t a particularly convincing victory against Zorya Luhansk in Thursday’s Europa League group game at Old Trafford.  But it didn’t need to be.  United just needed to win to avoid the possibility of a humiliating group stage exit in a competition they patently don’t give a toss about.  Which they they did – unconvincingly.

But even unconvincing United victories don’t come without accompanying dramas of soap opera proportions.  After endless debate, Mourinho had finally left Wayne Rooney out of the team last Saturday and was seemingly vindicated when United went on to record a comprehensive 4-1 victory over the reigning champions Leicester (yep, still sounds weird).  The team started without Rooney once more agasint Zorya, but with the score still 0-0, Mourinho brought him on in the 67th minute.  You can probably guess the rest.  Within seconds he had helped United to take the lead – in rather bizarre circumstances.  Young right-back Timothy Fosu-Mensah made a run down the wing before cutting back to Rooney, who scuffed his volley straight into the ground at the very moment the Zorya goalkeeper Oleksii Shevchenko lost his footing and fell.  Rooney’s mis-hit bounced straight to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the left post, who held off the defender and headed the ball into the unguarded net.  One goal for United, one assist for Wayne Rooney, three points for United, more endless debating about Rooney.

After three defeats on the trot, United have now won three in a row.  Winning is a habit and sometimes it’s better to keep winning badly than lose playing well.  Obviously in an ideal world United would play amazingly and collect silverware at will.  But the glory, glory days of Fergie and his exuberant, fleet footed fledglings are long gone.  Also gone are the days when managers had time to bed in.  Mourinho needs to keep accumulating the points and hope that the performances start coming with the confidence of winning.

A Tall Task Ahead For Mourinho

If any United fans thought that getting Jose Mourinho would magically herald a return to the Fergie glory years, the last couple of games will have brought them down to earthy reality with a massive bump.  The derby defeat on Saturday could be shrugged off as an early season loss against a superior team with perhaps the best coach in the universe at the helm.  But there could no such excuse against Feynood in the Europa League tonight.  A 1-0 away defeat compounded by a lacklustre performance where United barely created any chances.  It was just like watching Louis Van Gaal’s team in the Europa League last season.  Bereft of ideas, bereft of drive, bereft of clear cut chances.

Some might point to the eight changes made to the team line up in mitigation.  A cynic may suggest that Mourinho isn’t too keen to progress in the second tier of European competition and considers it an unnecessary distraction and hassle having to travel to far flung, terrorist threatened and war torn locations.  They might be right.  It may work in United’s favour to exit the Europa League at the group stage.  It would leave them free to concentrate on what really matters – challenging for top spot in the Premier League.  Unfortunately, United’s problems look depressingly familiar – struggling to score goals at one end whilst conceding sloppy ones at the other end.  Right now, a more realistic target would appear to be simply finishing in the top four and getting into the Champions League.

The one Mourinho buy who did start was Paul Pogba, a player who is currently making Fergie look like a prescient genius in flogging him.  Pogba’s mediocre start on his return to his alma mater gives the impression that United’s biggest mistake was not in selling him but buying him back.  It is to be hoped Pogba will improve and show his worth as the season wears on, but for £89 million, United have a right to expect a player to hit the deck running.  Mourinho needs a midfield general in the mould of a Robson or Keane to take command of his team and drive them forward.  Right now the only place Pogba is driving is a cul-de-sac.

Of course, change takes time.  But what manager has time these days?  No manager, not even a United one will have the seven years that Fergie needed to win his first League title.  With Pep Guardiola’s City already looking like the classy, self-assured team to beat and Antonio Conte’s shrewd buys making Chelsea competitive again, Mourinho faces a tall task in returning United to the top of the perch they imperiously sat on for so long under Fergie.