It has been a season of inconsistency, a fact highlighted by José Mourinho’s indecision when it comes to his starting team. Case in point, Mourinho has named the same line up in consecutive matches just once this season, at home to Southampton followed by the trip to Hull City. While injuries can disrupt team selection, Manchester United lies 15th on the ‘injury league table’ this season. In truth, it is far more likely reason that constant tinkering is the result of Mourinho not knowing his best side. But one point of consistent excellence this season has been Michael Carrick.
Social media is an amazing tool for sports. Twitter allows for instant reactions, enabling fanbases of all clubs to unite, or clash, in one giant community. Increasingly, video is proving a critical part of the interaction: Twitter video and Vine, which was popular until its demise. But the impact of video clips has undoubtedly had an impact on the football bubble. Not always in a positive way.
There’s a lot to be said about Manchester United’s current plight. For all the so-called dominance on the pitch, results aren’t coming José Mourinho’s way. Increasingly the Europa League looks like United’s best route to Champions League football next season. In common with Thursday’s victory, United’s best results this season have come with Michael Carrick in the team. So how can Mourinho extract the most from his ageing midfielder?
As results go, Manchester United’s victory over Dutch side Feyenoord was certainly overdue. José Mourinho’s side found its shooting boots along with some electrifying performances in a 4-0 victory that leaves the Reds close to qualification for the Europa League knockout stages. United scored more than once for the first time in three home games to break an unfortunate record. Could it spark a much-needed revival?
Perhaps the most shocking data point from Manchester United’s last three Premier League home games is the more than 70 shots taken for just two goals scored. United 1-1 Stoke City, United 0-0 Burnley and United 1-1 Arsenal all carried a good deal of frustration. The six points lost in draws where United should have won might just be critical by May and could have taken José Mourinho’s side to just three points behind leaders Chelsea. It wasn’t so and for the most part the blames lies with the Reds’ inability to turn chances into goals. Not so on Thursday, with United vibrant in attack and efficient in scoring four against Feyenoord. The question is whether United can sustain the level of performance when the serious business of domestic football resumes this weekend?
It was telling that even after a morale-boosting victory over Swansea City last weekend, José Mourinho still felt compelled to address what he believes to be the biggest problem at Manchester United. The Portuguese alluded to what he believes are “some cultural issues, influenced by a situation that has been going on for a few years,” before controversially singling out some members of his squad. Simply put, Mourinho feels that some players aren’t giving him enough.
Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: six players, almost £100 million in transfer fees, and one big falling out. For differing reasons each of the sextet could be headed out of the club, caught in José Mourinho’s demand for total commitment. Once again the Portuguese has demonstrated a single-minded drive to do things his way, one that will cost the club millions in depreciating player values. It had better be worth it.
These are strange times at Manchester United. Strange and unsettling times. The worst that could be said about United’s defeat at Fenerbahçe on Thursday is that the result wasn’t unexpected. Victory would have been met with relief such has been United’s form and poor away record in Europe. Instead, José Mourinho will have to pick through the wreckage of this latest set-back and try to steady the ship.
August 2014. Cast your mind back to Louis van Gaal’s Premier League first game as manager, against Swansea City at Old Trafford. The take away from the match was United going down to the Swans, but it also marked Jesse Lingard’s competitive début. Like Van Gaal, Lingard suffered a match to forget, though for completely different reasons, with the youth team graduate heading off after 24 minutes because of a knee injury. It’s a metaphor for Lingard’s career.
There were times during Louis van Gaal’s regime at Manchester United when the Dutchman’s team couldn’t record 37 shots in a month, let alone a game. Fast forward a few months and the current vintage has few problem creating chances; it’s the finishing that is letting the team down. Indeed, it seems churlish to complain about United’s draw with Burnley at the weekend despite all those failed efforts on goal. After all, José Mourinho’s team actually produced a fine attacking display, save for the lack of chances taken.