Juan Mata’s recent years in the Premier League have been an enigma. While successful, the Spaniard has often appeared to be a square peg in a round hole. Somehow, and with great credit, the Spaniard has made his time at Manchester United work. The player’s style is unrecognisable from his time at Chelsea and Valencia, with his defensive workrate significantly improved, making Mata both more useful, and more modern.
Manchester United’s season has been one of frustrating but gradual improvement under José Mourinho’s stewardship. Little by little the last vestiges of Louis van Gaal’s philosophy is being chipped away, to be replaced with a style of football that’s more in-keeping with the demands of United supporters.
Victory in the Premier League at last. Recent draws against Burnley, Stoke City, Arsenal, West Ham United and Everton had threatened to derail Manchester United’s domestic season, putting qualification for the Champions League at risk and ending all hope of a challenge for the title. Yet, Sunday’s narrow win over Tottenham Hotspur offers some light. Not only that United can salvage the campaign, but make up a six point gap to fourth-placed Manchester City. It is a scenario that will require the Reds to go on a lengthy winning run this winter.
For a while it appeared that Henrikh Mkhitarayan’s Manchester United career would never get beyond the “what if?” stage. The Armenian seemed destined for an ignominious exit, with José Mourinho unimpressed. Yet, the summer signing from Borussia Dortmund is now in the team, making a second Premier League start against Everton, months after that fateful début against Manchester City in September. Then came that spectacular goal in Ukraine on Thursday. It may be too soon to start celebrating, but there are signs that the tide is slowly turning in Mkhitarayan’s favour. Can he can finally light up Old Trafford? One hopes – and for a long time to come.
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.