For all the millions spent, for all the hype around the manager, and for all the A-listers, Manchester United are still lacking a vision, and will finish outside of the top four this season.
United just don’t have that killer instinct that clubs around them do, and can often look clueless in periods of the 90 minutes. More worryingly, United look dangerously vulnerable when teams counter. So evident, that minnows, Zorya Luhansk, even cut the Red Devils open a few times in their Europa league game.
Although United were missing both their first choice full backs in the Europa League match, there was still huge gaps in between the midfield and the back four which the Ukraine side easily exposed, and it took a good save from Sergio Romero to stop Zorya going 1-0 up before the Red Devils took the lead. Unthinkable that a team who finished fourth in their domestic league in Ukraine could go one up at Old Trafford.
Ok, people will jump straight to United’s defence. “This was a European game, the side weren’t as motivated, and were not at FULL strength. Look how good they were against Leicester”. Bollocks. United were probably 80% on the way to being a full XI, in the 1-0 victory, and looked totally at sixes and sevens. What’s more, was that the game against Leicester provided a smoke-screen that United have found a winning formula.
Leicester were on top for the first 15 odd minutes, and United struggled to retain the ball, and there were fears of a repeat of Man City and Watford. The first goal from Chris Smalling settled the side down, and United were able to get into a rhythm. But, at the end of the day, United scored three of the four goals from set-pieces, which killed the game after 40 minutes. This was not from looking good in open play, but orchestrating victory through dead ball situations, with the help of Leicester being very poor from defending such scenarios.
The victory, therefore, provided a short-term fix, which would hush the media for all of four days. And then, this Europa League game just once again reaffirmed all of United’s issues. Totally clueless, with no real game plan.
There is no width in the side, Jesse Lingard is not the answer, and as much as he’s a good lad with his Snapchat banter, the forward is simply a mid-table player. With the only ‘out-and-out’ winger being Ashley Young, the Red Devils are missing a player with real quality to stretch a side, meaning they become too predictable going through the middle, and teams can easily defend this by packing the midfield. City did it brilliantly, and United resorted to the long ball. City could have won the game by five or six, and the 2-1 result totally flattered United.
Again, against Watford, careless in possession, not good enough going through the middle – out of ideas. People have come to sing Juan Mata’s praise, but the Spaniard is simply not good enough to control a game at 10. The 28-year-old is not capable of dragging a side to a top-four finish, let alone winning a title. The top four will be City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham. All with No. 10’s who make Mata and Rooney look like Championship budgeteers. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has to get fit, and start playing regularly, otherwise, there will be a contagious space filling the role between Zlatan and Pogba.
United almost have too many players. It’s making the issue more confusing, as finding the right balance needs to constantly be trialled. It’s no secret that Mourinho likes a small squad, where rotation is not an option the Portuguese favours. To choose from six odd midfielders every week, who could all stake a claim for one reason or another is creating a real dilemma and adding to that missing balance, Mourinho so desperately craves.
Marouane Fellaini is hands down one of the biggest problems. And I just can not understand the gaffer’s persistence with the Belgian?! The Guardian summed up the United man superbly:
“Fellaini once again brilliant at breaking up play; if he could just start breaking up the other team’s play”
As comical as this is, it couldn’t be more true. The Belgian totally slows the play down, and is not doing the role he’s in the side to do. Paul Pogba, on the other hand, can, and will be very good, but he has no positional discipline and has to play with Michael Carrick to give the Frenchman the licence he deserves. The No.6 is still too sloppy in possession, as was the case against Zorya, and has to improve to justify his fee.
There is serious problems at Old Trafford. And whatever the result against Stoke on the weekend, it will not cover up these issues. Before the big guns come calling, such as Tottenham or Liverpool, a balance and formula has to be found, otherwise they will make United look like school boys, just as City did at Old Trafford a few weeks ago.