Mourinho gambles on momentum lost for faltering Reds

October 23, 2017 Tags: , Matches 4 comments
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Swansea City away in the everybody’s least favourite tournament, on a cold, probably wet, Tuesday night in the pretty shitty city is nobody’s description of a must win game. Must win it is though after José Mourinho’s plans threatened to turn south over the past week. Manchester United’s dispiriting draw at Anfield, narrow win at Benfica, and gutless defeat to Huddersfield Town, have tongues wagging at Old Trafford. Mourinho will ring the changes for the League Cup tie at Swansea, but anything other than a comfortable victory will create added pressure ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford at the weekend.

Mourinho’s side is the defending champion in this tournament, although the Portuguese coach suggested United would be better off without the newly-rebranded Carabao Cup. “Could English football survive or even be better without this competition?” he pondered. “Maybe. Maybe we would be fresher for European competitions.”

Yet, the League Cup proved a significant boost last season and a platform from which to build towards an end-of-season Europa League victory, together with the momentum and confidence that comes with silverware. That thrust carried over into an unbeaten start to the new campaign, with goals flowing against mostly limited opposition.

"Swansea away in the everybody’s least favourite tournament on a cold, probably wet, Tuesday night nobody’s description of a must win game, but must win it is."

United’s run of positive performances ended at Anfield last weekend where Mourinho sent his team out to secure a goalless draw against a limited opponent in an approach that has been described as “cowardly” in some quarters.

Mourinho’s decision to park-the-bus has been the subject of much debate over the past week, but also one that has proven to be a catastrophic mistake. After all, momentum is very hard-won, but easily lost. This Mourinho’s side found out in Portugal, where the Reds won narrowly against Benfica. Defeat at Huddersfield had an air, if not of inevitability, then at least of trajectory about it.

Mourinho was having none of it, throwing his players under the bus after defeat in West Yorkshire. Ander Herrera, who offered an honest assessment of Huddersfield’s greater “passion,” was singled out by the United manager – a classic case of shooting the messenger.

“I don’t even remember a friendly match where our attitude was so poor,” Mourinho said after United’s 2-1 defeat . “When I lose matches, I like to lose because the opponent was better and had more quality. But when you lose because of attitude, that is really bad.

“I heard Ander Herrera in his TV interview saying the attitude and desire was poor. When a player says that, or a player feels that, I think they should all go to the press conference and explain why — because I cannot explain that.”

Jose Mourinho

The temptation might be to roll out the big guns on Tuesday, secure a healthy win at free-falling Swansea, and regain the feel-good factor before Tottenham’s visit. Mourinho is unlikely to bow to that pressure, with Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and David De Gea all due a rest. In turn, Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, and youngster Scott McTominay could all come into the squad. Key players will remain fresh for the weekend, but defeat in Wales will only add to a sense that United’s positive start to the campaign has ground to a halt.

Yet, United’s early season victories did come with a warning: could Mourinho’s side do it against top opposition? Given Liverpool’s hammering at the hands of Spurs on Sunday, it is clear that the Reds are yet to face a decent side this season. All the more worrying that the team has hit a sticky patch before October is out.

More fundamentally, Mourinho’s timidity at Anfield and the brutal defeat in Yorkshire exposed the Reds’ weaknesses. It is still a team in whom Mourinho does not fully trust, where confidence is built on shaky ground, and the expensively assembled stars hold too many limitations.

“When you look at United, they don’t play with the same fluidity as Spurs or Manchester City,” Tom Ince, son of former Red Paul noted at the weekend. “They build up slowly and we felt that, if we could win the ball back and try to exploit the space in behind – the space the full-backs leave because they go so high – we could have an advantage.”

It proved to be an astute assessment by up-and-coming Huddersfield manager David Wagner.


Swansea’s loss to managerless Leicester City at the weekend was the Swans’ fifth Premier League defeat of the campaign. The Welsh side has now picked up just four points from the team’s last six league games, leaving Swansea outside the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

Manager Paul Clement is not yet under the threat of the sack, although the former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich assistant manager is coming up to a year in post. Clement led Swansea to an unlikely escape from relegation last season, with his team securing 26 points from the final 18 games.

Paul Clement

Yet, the Swans have not been able to build on the positive end to last season. Indeed, a difficult summer in the transfer market left many assuming that the club was primed for a relegation battle. Key midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson was sold to Everton for more than £40 million, while striker Fernando Llorente opted to join Spurs as cover for Harry Kane, and midfielder Jack Cork left for Burnley. In came Sam Clucas from Hull City, Wilfried Bony returning from Manchester City, Roque Mesa from Las Palmas, and the youngster Renato Sanches on loan. Talented players all, but no guarantee of an improvement on stars departed.

Team News

The aforementioned Rojo, Carrick, and McTominay could feature in south Wales, although only the latter is definitely fit enough to start.  Goalkeeper Sergio Romero and defenders Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are also in contention. Youngster Axel Tuanzebe could play at right-back, while the hapless Viktor Linelof may be given the opportunity to make up for his catastrophic mistake at the weekend.

Phil Jones will definitely miss the game after being injured in United’s weekend defeat, while long-term absentees Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all miss out.

Swansea City v Manchester United, League Cup, Liberty Stadium, 24 October 2017

Elsewhere, Mourinho could pick both Antony Martial and Marcus Rashford to start together in attack for only the second time this season. It would be an exciting choice in a game that few really want.

Referee:Bobby Madley
Assistants: Simon Bennett, Eddie Smart
Fourth official: Roger East


Denton Davey - October 23, 2017 Reply

“Tom Ince, son of former Red Paul noted at the weekend. “They build up slowly and we felt that, if we could win the ball back and try to exploit the space in behind – the space the full-backs leave because they go so high – we could have an advantage.” ”

Actually, that was not an “astute assessment” as BOTH of the goals for Huddersfield came from appalling mistakes in the center of the park – Mata lost the ball and Huddersfield had a 3-on-2 break which led to the first goal and then Lindelof just simply fucked-up on a ball that the keeper punted almost the length of the field.

I saw no evidence to support Ince’s assessment that UTD were easy-to-get-at because the fullbacks played far-up-the-pitch. However, when Young/Valencia were far-up-the-pitch, they contributed the-square-root-of-sweet-fuck-all to UTD’s “attack” (note the Spockian-eyebrow !).

In fact, from my vantage-point (on the couch, watching telly, in Toronto), this match once again underscored the turgid, van Gaal-esque nature of Jo$e’s “style” (another Spockian eyebrow raised !).

After the three matches last week, for the first time this season, I’m beginning to wonder if “the table does lie” and if TheLads are in danger of not getting in the top-four.

Too many good players seem to have had the ambition/energy sucked out of them. Really, only Rashford seems to have any ambition/energy among the forwards. Lukaku looked ponderous – good left-footed cross, for the goal against Huddersfield, though – while Mata, Mhkitaryan, and Martial all seemed lost. Ander Herrera, too. I counted two good moments for AshleyBloodyYoung and a very good defensive performance from AV25 – but not much “going forward” from a guy who used to be a really dynamite winger. Still, Valencia was, I think, UTD’s best outfield player because he did an excellent job of defending.

Oddly, both Young and Valencia used to be pretty good wingers but they are now useless at that part of the game while being not-altogether-bad as defenders – although Young has much worse positional sense than Valencia, who has become a very good defender.

The other point that needs to be underscored about the last three matches is that Paul Pogba can’t come back soon enough. His absence has really emphasized his enormous presence, as it were. UTD just aren’t the same outfit without Poggers.

Reds4life - October 24, 2017 Reply

We can blame Linderloff, but United really need to get rid of Smalling and Jones. Smalling is simply not good enough and only showed glimpse of ever been world class under LVG it was obvious he was more aggressive and stronger since LVG left he and Martial have regressed a lot. Jones is good but is just too injury prone for it to ever matter. Don’t get me wrong they are both decent player I can see snapping tbroving at Arsenal but I think for United we need someone like Varane to play in Smalling position.

Denton Davey - October 25, 2017 Reply

Off topic – but’s what’s up with Angel Gomes ?

We were led to believe that this kid was the second coming of Andres Iniesta but he couldn’t get into the game for the Ingerland u17s. Seems strange – or ??????

Ed - October 27, 2017 Reply

I think you’re reading too much into both the ‘second coming’ analysis and that he isn’t starting for u17 right now. Most kids his age fail. The odds are still against him. As for England, he scored a goals in the earlier rounds, but the team has found a good rhythm without him. Could still play in the final, but he is one of the youngest players in the squad.

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