Struggling Reds welcome Everton as Champions League chances run out

April 3, 2017 Tags: , Reads 6 comments
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As fresh problems presented themselves, a familiar result was the almost inevitable outcome. With little more than a handful of choices available, José Mourinho lined up his few available players against West Bromwich Albion and was rewarded with yet another home draw.  Although Manchester United is in the midst of an unbeaten league run that stretches almost six months, Mourinho’s side remains fifth, seemingly as far away from the Champions League as ever. The past 20 league games without loss have included nine ending in a tie.

Saturday’s occasion had all the hallmarks of déjà vu; a performance and result to which the Old Trafford faithful have become accustomed. Once again, Mourinho’s side enjoyed the majority of possession, yet created very little of note. Such was the manager’s frustration at his inability to break a familiar pattern that he made a point of criticising his players’ inability to take the few chances they made. “We missed easy chances and we had a couple of players who when you look up you don’t see them for 10 minutes,” the manager noted immediately following the game. “You always see the same guys in front of the train, holding the train up.”

"There was nobody wise enough to steer the chance home. For long periods of the game, United toiled as West Brom stacked 10 players in defence. The Reds had no answer, and no alternatives. "

It was a harsh, if perfectly valid point. Opportunities flashed across Ben Foster’s goalmouth more than once on Saturday, yet there was nobody wise enough to steer the chance home. For long periods of the game United toiled as West Brom stacked 10 players in defence. Yet, the Reds had no answer, and no alternatives. By the final whistle the team had resorted to launching long balls at Marouane Fellaini. Always the sign of desperation.

Jose Mourinho

Tony Pullis’ team isn’t the first to employ defensive tactics at Old Trafford of course. In ties against Burnley, West Ham United, Stoke City and Bournemouth, United faced an opponent that was happy to sit back and soak up what little pressure United could muster. Mourinho is yet to find an answer. It is all the more frustrating for the opportunity missed – United might be chasing down Chelsea had the team converted many of these home draws into wins. As it stands Champions League qualification looks a stretch.

Indeed, it is difficult to look at the league table with much optimism, not least because of Liverpool’s victory at the weekend. The Reds hold a game in hand over Manchester City and two over Liverpool, but sit five points behind the Blues, and six behind the Merseysiders. Mourinho’s men now have a mere 10 games to bridge the gap to the top four. To make matters more difficult, three of those games will be against opposition residing in the Champions League places.


It’s now or never for Mourinho’s side. On Tuesday United must defeat an Everton side suffering the fallout of an emotional Merseyside derby. It will be no easy task, with Everton in seventh place, and the visitors holding the opportunity to overtake United should the Blues find a way to victory at Old Trafford.

Under Ronald Koeman’s stewardship Everton has become a more consistent side than last season. The Dutchman has overseen a number of impressive victories in recent months, including a 4-0 win over City in January and victory over Arsenal before the international break. The Toffees are now in the unlikely position of challenging for a European berth. However, the visitors arrive in Manchester on the back of that Liverpool defeat, and Koeman’s side has been on the wrong end of widespread criticism for the nature of some of the tackling in the Merseyside derby, not least the roughhouse treatment of Emre Can.

Romelu Lukaku

Yet, there is more to this Everton side. Spearheading the visitors’ attack is a man with whom Mourinho should be familiar – or unfamiliar, depending on which way you look at it. Romeu Lukaku was shipped out to Everton in a £28 million deal only weeks into Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea, and has successful built a reputation as one of the Premier League’s finest strikers. Lukaku is top of the league’s goalscoring charts this season, having been in outstanding form for his club, netting 21 times in the campaign. United’s patchwork defensive line will certainly be tested, while home supporters will look on with some envy.

Where Everton has been too often undone this season is in the goalkeeping department, with Maarten Stekelenburg brought in to put an end to Joel Robles’ less-than-confident displays. It was a short-lived move and Robles will appear in the away goal on Tuesday night. In an attempt to mask his ‘keeper’s shortcomings, Koeman opted for the increasingly popular back five at the weekend, with dreadful results. The Dutchman must hope that United’s inability to find the net will come to his rescue at Old Trafford.

Team News

Mourinho’s injury list is as lengthy as ever, although suspensions to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera are finally up. Both are available not a moment too soon; Herrera’s return will add some much-needed depth to United’s flagging midfield, while the Reds’ top goalscorer will walk back into the team, with his colleagues underlining the Swede’s importance during his absence.

Manchester United v Everton, Premier League, Old Trafford, 4 April 2017 United subs from: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Fellaini, Young, Darmian, Rashford, Martial
Everton subs from: Stekelenburg, Valencia, Pennington, McCarthy, Lookman, Lennon, Kone

No such fortune can be found in the defensive ranks, with Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo representing United’s only natural centre back pairing. The only real question in defence is at left-back. Not for the first time this season, Mourinho opted to publicly criticise Luke Shaw. Despite the full back’s undeniable talent, Mourinho has taken umbrage at the Englishman’s attitude and application. It is surely the player’s last-chance at Old Trafford, and reports this week suggest that Shaw will be included in the matchday squad following a private meeting with his manager. It is unlikely that he will add to his run of two appearances in four months. Koeman’s side arrives at Old Trafford without former Red Morgan Schneiderlin, who is injured – as are Yannick Bolas, Seamus Coleman, and Ramiro Funes.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Assistants: C Hatzidakis, S Ledger
Fourth official: B Madley

United 2 – 1 Everton


Denton Davey - April 4, 2017 Reply

When you look back on SAF’s last, great team – 2008 CL/EPL winners – there was obviously a plan to stand by certain “personality types” like Keane/Scholes to set-the-tone for the others. I think that Jo$e looks at things the same way which is why he is so enamoured with Zlatan. We don’t know anything about the “commitment” of Martial or Pogba or Rashford or Mhki or Mata or even Lingard (who might make up with his own commitment what he lacks in a comparable skill-set).

For Jo$e, a player needs to go-through-a-wall for the team and to follow very specific instructions. This managerial control is the same as the way that LvG demanded that his players act like robots. Jo$e criticizing LvG is rather like the pot-calling-the-kettle-black.

But, more to the point, Saturday’s draw just confirmed the general view I have of the two fullbacks, neither of whom contributed much to the attack in terms of ACTUAL end-product. They might have looked good and had a lot of “touches” but when the chips were down, they did the square-root-of-sweet-fuck-all.

Having MrBlowJob and MC16 meant that the midfield would be ponderous but in a match like the one against West Brom (and so many of the other ones that ended up with draws and the loss of two points) these midfielders’ lack of foot-speed wasn’t a big issue since “the field was tilted” towards the opposition goal. What matters in these circumstances is not speed but rather quickness – of passing, especially. AND, also, getting themselves into attacking positions.

In the post-match commentary there was a fairly spirited debate about the quality of the team as well as the prospects for the next six weeks. Almost all of them were pessimistic, which is hardly surprising since Jo$e’s UTD have hardly set-the-world-on-fire and the shots/goal ratio is just awful. BUT what some seem to consider is that the problems are down to Jo$e’s stodgy style whereas it seems to me that when TheLads have been in-and-around the box without much production the issue is elsewhere – not enough support in the attacking zone from the fullbacks (who are there to provide width) and also the midfielders, especially without Pogba/Herrera/Mata. Some also argued – I think quite correctly – that Jo$e is more concerned with NOT LOSING as opposed to winning which is why his team seems to have settled for all those draws. The comparison with SAF really damns Mourinho because Fergy’s teams would always go for the jugular whereas the Jo$e/LvG style is much less daring.

The other issue that deserves comment is Jo$e’s unwillingness to “give the kids (especially Fosu-Mensah and also Tuanzebe) a chance” as opposed to journeymen/veterans like Young, Fellaini, Smalling, Jones, Darmian, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, and so on.

To be sure, these veterans provide a measure of reliability but not one of them – not even Valencia who gets over-the-top praise in my opinion – has proven to be a reliable match-winner.

The only possible exception to that generalization has been two “moments” from TheWayneBoy – his pass to Rashford in the first match @ Hull and his wonderful free kick which sealed the victory against Stoke. But, really, what else has he done – he’s the team-captain, its highest paid player, AND said to be its “leader” ?

So, my take-away is that the squad is top-heavy in players who would – on current form – struggle to get minutes in the 2008 team. Yet these guys have all accumulated lots of playing time in this year’s iteration even though they’ve hardly shown any evidence that there’s an up-side to the manager’s loyalty to them.

Denton Davey - April 4, 2017 Reply

Yeah, I know that Keane wasn’t on that 2008 team BUT he was – for a decade – the cornerstone of the team-mentality that SAF prized. His on-field (and off-field) leadership is said to have been instrumental in bringing that never-say-die/we’ll-beat-you-in-the-tunnel-and-then-we’ll-beat-you-on-the-pitch attitude to two generations of callow youths, from the Class of 92 to the double winners of 2008.

When SAF left after winning # 20, a lot of that indomitable attitude left with him. Regaining that attitude is the real measure of Jo$e’s challenge. From what I’ve seen, there’s a long, long, long way to go with this group – or else, he can bring in a new group (either through transfers or internal recruitment) and try to repeat the magic of Fergy’s era, which is now so near and yet so far away.

Bonehead - April 4, 2017 Reply

Somebody needs to remind Jose that:

1. Playing West Brom at home is not the same playing Barcelona in the Nou Camp, so 2 CDMs are not required. Stick Fellaini in the only role he can do to a decent level (up front as a battering ram). Which leads us on to point 2…

2. We are playing 3 points for a win so 5 wins and 5 losses equal 15 points, not the 10 we have for 10 draws. In other words, go for it when its tight!!

No excuses, we have the players, they just need to be used properly. Hopefully Jose’s decent record against better opposition gets us wins in the 6 pointers coming up.

Fusilli Jerry - April 4, 2017 Reply

Denton Davey speaks a truth long overdue in United analysis – that Valencia’s contribution (Valdes chasing down aside) is massively overstated. He’s fit and fast and hard-working, but limited – let alone “the best right back in the world”. For years I couldn’t fathom why he’d almost never take on his man, why instead he’d waste the excellent positions his pace and teammates would get him into, by stopping still, allowing the opposition to regroup, before passing backwards. I wondered if he’d patented pointless keep-ball years before Van Gaal darkened our door step. Recently, finally, it dawned on me: he’s afraid of getting injured.

Somehow this decision-making basis (in the player’s interests, not in his team’s) makes him Mourinho’s man, whilst Shaw is cannon fodder for the demoralise, demotivate-and-blame approach we saw fare so well for Chelsea last season.

Denton Davey - April 4, 2017 Reply

The Einstein definition of insanity, as we all know only too well, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This also neatly encapsulates Jo$e’s “tactics” and “strategy” as well as his team selection.

What reason can one have for sticking with MrBlowJob, AshleyBloodyYoung, MC16, Daley Blind, and – wait for it – MrZ. In the first five minutes, Zlatan had a glorious chance to score which he didn’t take and then another opportunity to slide the ball into Rashford’s path but he dithered and the opening in Everton’s defence closed. Later, he had a point-blank header that he sent over the bar. In between, he was doing TheWayneBoy/Dimmy impression of walkabout-#9-in-midfield so that when the ball was flashed across the Everton box he was ambling forward. Sure he scored an onside goal that was disallowed and cooly slotted home the penalty to grab a draw from the jaws of defeat BUT, really, he was just not at-the-races. And this is hardly an isolated example since his misses far outweigh his goals – “flatters-to-deceive” comes to mind.

Further to my earlier posts, it’s pretty clear that Jo$e and Zlatan have some sort of “bro-mance” because Z never gets taken off and never gets “managed”. He just does his own thing. I’m coming to the impression that if Zlatan goes to LAGalaxy then that won’t be a bad thing – there will be space for Rashford and Martial to breathe.

More to the point, though, is which of these players are worth keeping ?

I suppose that DDG will get a lot of support but, in my mind, he was at least 80% responsible for the goal today since he never, never, never commands the box. DDG is very agile but he’s not really “grown” as a keeper in the last three/four years. I know that Romero has a mistake-in-him but he’d do a perfectly competent job.

Fullbacks, perhaps a daring choice would be to keep Fosu-Mensah on the right and give Shaw a proper chance on the left.

Central Defenders – keep today’s combination (Bailly/Rojo) and play them together as much as possible.

Midfield – Pogba/Herrera are keepers but MrBlowJob should go the way of Schweini and Schneidi.

Forwards, I’d keep the potential of Rashford and Martial as well as the trickery of Mhki/Mata but Lingard is nothing more than a bench-player while TheWayneBoy is well past his best-by date, and Zlatan just disorganizes everything because he unbalances the team.

Giving first-team minutes to Fellaini, Young, Valencia, Blind, Darmian, Jones, Smalling, and Carrick is just hugely depressing. Whenever I see a team-sheet with these names then it’s just a form of self-flagellation to watch TheLads. To compare this dross with the 2008 team, well…… Say no more, say no more !

Whatever happens in the next six weeks, I would hope that almost all of those guys have their exit-tickets punched.

dayus - April 6, 2017 Reply

Excuses !Excuses !!Excuses!!!. The simple question is are we better off now than we were last season.? Mourinho is a coach in decline. I said it when he was hired and nothing he has done so far proved otherwise. Under Moyes we were struggling to beat teams at Old Trafford. All that changed under LVG when some pride was restored and we won most of our home matches. Now we can’t beat relegation teams. The tragedy of it all is that we are where we are and.

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