Zlatan Ibrahimović’s equalizer against Liverpool at Old Trafford is a breathtakingly good goal. His sense to take a couple of steps back into a tiny pocket of space thus giving Antonio Valencia a clear target for a cross demonstrated the instincts of a top-class and experienced striker. His header was placed, inch perfect high into the goal. Make no mistake it was not easy to execute. What shouldn’t get lost in the joy and relief of Ibrahimović’s leveler was his reaction to the goal.
In this week’s pod Ed & Paul look back on a dramatic, entertaining, if low-quality match against the old enemy Liverpool. The Reds’ winning run came to an end during a score draw at Old Trafford, but did José Mourinho’s side deserve more than that?
Manchester United failed to record victory against one of the Premier League’s top fives sides on Sunday – it was the fifth time in six matches in this particular group that the Reds have come away with fewer than three points. Defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, together with draws against Arsenal and Liverpool, leaves José Mourinho’s team with the worst head-to-head record between the top six. Progress at Old Trafford is genuine, but save for victory over Spurs, it is largely based on beating those below United in the table. With Champions League qualification far from guaranteed, this pattern is Mourinho’s most critical challenge over the next five months.
It’s nine victories in a row for Manchester United, the longest winning run since the 2008/09 title-winning campaign. Six of those wins have come in the league, yet the Reds remain stuck in sixth place – Mourinho’s men are running to stand still. It is a frustrating anomaly, but there is much more to the team’s turnaround than league standing. After what seems like an eternity, it feels like watching United again. What more could be asked heading into Liverpool’s visit on Sunday?
Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s situation at Old Trafford is an interesting study. The youngster made an impressive start to life at United last season, one of the few bright sparks during the Louis van Gaal era, and it seems only a matter of time before he fully develops into a top-class footballer. The Dutchman is already a fan favourite and there’s widespread clamour for the youngster to get more games under his belt. Yet, his talents have been overlooked by José Mourinho in favour of more experienced pros. Is there a route into the first team?
Ed & Paul revel in another two United wins, worry a little about the impending doom facing both the World Cup and, well, the world in general, and preview the Liverpool game. There are a ton of listener questions, an argument about the merits of Matteo Darmian and an (almost) entirely positive conversation about Wayne Rooney. Whatever next?
There’s a lot that can be bought with £89 million. That’s how much it took to free the world’s most talented young midfielder from Juventus this past summer. In some quarters it bought Manchester United an over-rated, over-dabbing, hair- changing vine merchant. The truth is very different of course. Performances increasingly show that United now boasts the best midfielder in the Premier League. Not only that, he might be on another level altogether than his rivals.
Following Manchester United’s less-than-impressive start to the season José Mourinho’s side is now on a bit of a roll. Eight wins in succession in all competitions, including a 4-0 drubbing of Championship outfit Reading in the FA Cup, means confidence is at the highest point it’s been since last summer. It’s a run the Reds can continue when Hull City arrives at Old Trafford for a League Cup semi-final this Tuesday.
How quickly the narrative can change. In November, with Manchester United slipping well off the pace in the Premier League and looking game for an early exit from the Europa League, the pressure began to build on new coach José Mourinho. The Portuguese manager had come off a disastrous season at Chelsea, which ended in his dismissal by Roman Abramovich for the second time. Had the maestro’s mojo truly gone? Certainly, there was plenty of evidence in United’s inconsistent performances and disappointing results to suggest as much. Just a few weeks and eight victories later, nobody will draw that conclusion. Mourinho and United are back.
Rewind to January 2016 and the mood at Manchester United could hardly be more different. Although Louis Van Gaal did not depart until the end of the season, it was in the disastrous conclusion to 2015 that his fate was effectively sealed. The Reds did not win a game in December during a dismal run that included three straight defeats. Title ambitions were shattered and at one stage it appeared as though Van Gaal would not make it to the New Year.