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.