United Keep Drawing The Short Straw

If they gave out trophies in football for the most varied ways to draw matches, Jose Mourinho would already have won his first silverware for Manchester United.  No one has mastered the art of the draw quite as well as the current United team.  No matter what they do, no matter how they play, whether it’s home or away, top team or lower end strugglers, this United team will find a way to extract a draw.  They have played park the bus football (Liverpool); storm the Bastille football (Burnley, Stoke and West Ham); counter-attack football (Arsenal); more possession but low creativity football (Everton), and each time the outcome is the same.  A draw.

United’s latest draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday was the 6th in their last 8 League games.  It doesn’t help that the team have acquired an unfortunate proclivity for conceding late goals.  Against Everton, they gave away a clumsy penalty in the 89th minute to throw away three points.  There used to be a time when it was United who were scoring last gasp goals and breaking opposition hearts.  This season, they have already dropped seven valuable points through goals conceded in the last 10 minutes.  When you are struggling to live up to past glories, every point counts, and every point dropped is an ideal excuse for United’s detractors to declare a state of emergency.

It is easy to consider Chelsea’s implosion under Mourinho last year, their current top-of-the-table resurgence under Antonio Conte, along with United’s inability to win matches, and consign Mourinho as a has-been well past his sell-by date.  But what should be heeded is that United are team on the decline after having enjoyed a prolonged period of success.  Had Antonio Conte been appointed United’s manager, who is to say he wouldn’t have struggled as well.   If it was easy to maintain success indefinitely why haven’t the Scousers won a league title for 27 years?  Jose Mourinho’s task at Old Trafford is a monumental one.  He is attempting to fight the tide of history.  Rebuilding an empire takes time.  Even Fergie took a whole 7 years to win his first league title.  Mourinho will be lucky to get 7 months.

The media and opposition fans want Jose Mourinho to fail because that means United will have failed.  After 23 years of unrelenting glory, this is revenge time for the long-suffering ABUs (aka Anyone but United), who are wilfully twisting early season teething issues into a crisis of relegation proportions.  In truth, Mourinho’s United are not doing that badly.  They are presently in 6th place with the season barely into December.  They are one place off where they finished last season under Louis Van Gaal.  They are in the semi finals of the League Cup and on the brink of qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League.  Their football, irrespective of the outcome, is far more enticing and creative than anything played under Van Gaal or Moyes.  With a bit more luck in front of goal and a smidgen more grit in their defending, those frustrating draws could easily have become wins.

Given time, there is no reason why those draws cannot turn into wins in the future.  So long as the team keep creating chances, things will eventually click into place and the chances will start to go in.  United are traditionally stronger in the second half of the season, when results really start to matter.  United need to stay calm and most importantly, they need Jose to control his temper.  United’s cause is not helped by Mourinho’s permanently volatile state.  Leaving aside tax avoidance allegations, his constant petulant antics are giving the media and opposition fans far too much ammunition with which to attack the club.  Publicly criticising players, slagging off refs, kicking over bottles and getting sent off serves only to generate negative headlines and reinforce public perception that Mourinho has long since lost the plot.  At at time when United desperately need stability Mourinho’s combustible behaviour simply reaffirms the view that United made a fatal mistake in employing him.  Far from being United’s saviour he always appears one incident away from becoming their biggest liability.

The club cannot lose yet another manager.  United need Mourinho to keep his counsel and his dignity if he is to succeed, for the sake of the club and for his own redemption.  Likewise, United fans need to stay strong and support their manager, no matter what their personal opinions of him.  The club is bigger than any manager, any title and any fan feeling.  MUFC needs a manager to stick around.  It will, of course, help if Mourinho can win the League Cup (or EFL or whatever it’s called these days), even if it is a mickey mouse trophy.  Silverware is silverware, and at the very least it should buy Jose time.  As we know, time is a precious and much-needed commodity in football.



Long Road Back To The Top For United

They had 37 attempts on goal, 72% possession, 19 corners, they hit the post, they hit the bar, but still Manchester United couldn’t break through the rock hard defence of Burnley at Old Trafford on Saturday.  It was a similar story to their last home match against Stoke a month ago, where for all their huffing and puffing they could only manage a 1-1 draw.  Two matches, 61 shots at goal, a grand total of one goal scored.  When your luck’s out, it’s out.  Just ask Lewis Hamilton.

No doubt the ABUs are wallowing gleefully in Schadenfreude at United’s latest misfortune.  Cue echoes of ‘I told you so’ at the appointment of Jose Mourinho after his latest attention grabbing antics saw him ignominiously sent to the stands for protesting too much at Darmian’s probably correctly denied penalty appeal in the first half.  No one is better at diverting attention away from the team than Mourinho, but whether that is a good thing, even when the team are struggling and could perhaps do with having attention diverted away from them, is debatable.  However, United are stuck with him for better, for worse.  Changing managers yet again would only serve to destabilise the club further.

It is not mercurial managers nor mediocre players who are the real problem.  History is against Manchester United.  The previous two teams to dominate English football before Fergie’s United both suffered a precipitous decline in their league fortunes in the aftermath.  Matt Busby’s Manchester United reigned supreme in the 50s and 60s, but after Busby’s retirement it would take United 26 years to win the league title again.  Likewise, Liverpool ruled the roost from the late 60s up to 1990, but they have not won the league title since.  26 years and counting.  A long period of league domination followed by an equally prolonged decline is the inevitable trajectory of the supremely successful team.  The pride and the fall.

So United’s current decline was inevitable.  The media may obsess and the opposition fans taunt, but United fans will need to be patient and take it all on the chin.  The glory days will be back, but the wheel of fortune may take a while to turn again.  Just so long as it doesn’t take 26 years…

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.

United Turn A Corner Or Three

Correlation does not always imply causation.  Manchester United dropped Wayne Rooney for the visit of Premier League champions Leicester on Saturday and went on to thump them 4-1.  A clear case of cause and effect, or were Leicester simply terrible at defending for one awful 20 minute spell in the first half?  After all, this is the third time this season that Leicester have conceded four goals in a match.

The Rooney critics will rightly point to the increased fluidity, pace and movement in the team; the quicker interchange of passes; the increased space for Mata’s creativity to flourish; Pogba’s dominance in the first half, and Daley Blind’s deadly dead ball delivery.  Amazingly, three of United’s four goals came from corners.  United never score from corners, but then Rooney is the designated set piece taker.  In that respect, the belated change to Blind could not have come sooner!

However, perhaps even more significant was the decision to jettison the limited Marouane Fellaini and play Ander Herrera alongside Pogba in the deep lying Carrick role.  It freed Pogba to play much further forward, in a roaming role, that saw him hit a dipping 35 yard shot that was saved, contribute to Mata’s goal, score himself with a brilliant header, and play a delightful dink to Zlatan, whose swivelled volley over the bar would have been a top contender for goal of the season had it flown into the back of the net.  Of course, it’s the least United can expect for £89 million, but it was a timely reminder of why United forked out such a huge sum for the young Frenchman they offloaded for £88 million less four years ago.

One swallow does not a summer make though.  If correlation is to prove causation United will have to keep playing well without Rooney – or keep playing badly with him.  United play again on Thursday evening, at Old Trafford in the Europa League, and it is believed Rooney will start.  What happens if United play well and win?  How Jose Mourinho deals with solving the problem that is Wayne Rooney may well determine the success or failure of his tenure at Manchester United.



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.

Noisy Neighbours Kick Off With Derby Win

Pep 2 Jose 1.

Er, I mean United 1 City 2.

United are not a morning team.  We don’t do early kick offs.  United looked half asleep in the first 45 minutes like indolent teenagers who had been dragged out of bed to go to school.  That can be the only explanation for the lacklustre play and dozy defending that led to both City goals.  And then there was the obligatory dodgy refereeing denying United a penalty when Wayne Rooney was fouled by panicky debutant City keeper Claudio Bravo in the penalty area.  Anyway, it’s way too early in the season and United never come good till after Christmas.

There.  I have got that out of the way.

Back to reality.  City were simply better.

There.  I have got that out of the way too.

First to every ball.  Passing it with easy precision like Barcelona Mark II.  Fluid in movement, creative in imagination, obdurate in defence.  Welcome to Manchester, Pep.

Manchester City have struck it lucky.  The have nabbed the best coach in the world.  The rest of us can only watch with envy and try not to let the green eyed monster consume us.

Still, what a great match.  Thrilling end to end action.  Both teams going hell for leather for the win.  No fear football.  What a contrast from the turgid European Championships where cynical negativity from wimpy teams too scared of losing to venture out of their own half ruined the tournament as a spectacle.  Anyone wondering why the Premier League gets so much hype and why fans care more about their clubs than international football should watch this match.

Premier League 1 International Football 0.

Fergie Time is Back at United!

The last three seasons must have been gleeful Schadenfreude for the ABUs (Anyone but United).  No league titles, no imperious domination, no goal gluts and no last gasp injury time winners to break opposition hearts.  When Jose Mourinho was appointed Manchester United’s manager, the ABUs must have hoped he would continue with his supposed bus parking habit rather than revive swashbuckling Fergie traditions.  Their hopes lasted 3 games.  Perhaps Jose had been studying old United videos trying to figure out ways to ingratiate himself with his new club’s supporters.  Hmm, let’s see.  What to do?  There was the classic coming off the bench to score the winner trope.  Yep.  Why not add a dash of United youth?  Definitely.  That always goes down well with the Old Trafford faithful.  So, youth player comes off bench to score the winner.  But when?  There was only one time.  Fergie time.

Mike Phelan, the Hull manager, knows all about Fergie time.  He worked as the great man’s assistant at his former club from 2008 until Sir Alex’s retirement.  So the signs must have been ominous as the time neared 90 and the score remained 0-0.  Ironically, it was Hull who had almost done a United on United with David Meyler firing narrowly over in the 89th minute.  United were struggling to break down a stubborn Hull defence as the match entered injury time.  Time for Marcus Rashford to step up.

There had been portentous proclamations from the doom-mongers that his United career was over now Jose Mourinho was in charge.  After all, Jose didn’t promote youth, did he?  He sold youth, and bought big names.  Like selling Adnan Januzaj and buying Zlatan Ibrahimaovic.  And he had relegated Rashford to the bench.  A decision that had cost Rashford his place in the England team.  No first team place meant he was demoted to the Under-21 side.

Sam Allardyce may wish to revisit that decision after Rashford’s sparkling cameo against Hull.  Rashford is unusual for an England player; he’s not scared of the ball.  He’s not afraid to express himself, to try clever moves, to take on defenders, to go for an ambitious pass or a cheeky shot.  Sometimes they don’t come off; most of the time they do.  Sometimes, it’s just about being in the right place at the right time – the true knack of a gifted striker.  In the second minute of injury time, a mistake by the Hull defender allowed Rooney to come in from the byline and cross into the 6 yard box where Rashford had sneaked in between two defenders to tap in for the winner.  He celebrated by running over to the delirious away fans and indulging in a massive group hug.  That boy is going to provide tough competition for Zaltan for cult status at United.

The glory days aren’t back at United quite yet, but the ABUs might want to brace themselves.  Jose Mourinho has just unleashed his inner Fergie on the Premier League.