The phrase Manchester United “left to rue missed chances” has found its way into far too many match reports this season, and Thursday’s Europa League draw with Anderlecht was yet another installment in a long line of wasteful performances. The good news for José Mourinho is that his side has an opportunity to quickly make amends; the bad news is that it involves the visit to Old Trafford of table-topping Chelsea.
Which is the greater priority: finishing inside the Premier League’s top four or winning the Europa League? With each comes Champions League qualification, although only victory in Europe’s second tier competition brings with it silverware. Certainly, the regularly dropped points in the Premier League this season has placed greater emphasis on European competition. The latest side in United’s path – Belgian league leaders Anderlecht.
Manchester United came, Manchester United saw, Manchester United stuck it to David Moyes on Wearside. So, it wasn’t the finest performance, but after two draws at Old Trafford in the past week, three points offer a great fillip to the Reds’ hopes of making the Champions League
Poor Luke Shaw, it appears nothing can go right for the youngster. Even the title of ‘most polarizing Manchester United player’ was snatched from his grasp when Jesse Lingard put pen to paper on a new four-year deal. Then, after helping to rescue a point against Everton, his contribution was round mocked. “Shaw’s Shanked Redemption” was Raphael Honigstein’s response to the full-back’s hacked right-footed effort that led to United’s last minute penalty against the Toffees.
José Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United last summer was met with excitement and skepticism in equal measure. Supporters raised questions not just about Mourinho’s style of play and its relevance, but the manager’s tendency to court controversy. Yet, Mourinho has demonstrated another quality – flexibility. It may be key as the season draws to a close.
If there was ever evidence that statistics can be deceiving then Manchester United’s unbeaten league run is the go-to example. The run now stretches to 19 games undefeated, but with little demonstrable progress to show for it. The Reds make the trip to Sunderland desperate to ensure that David Moyes is not the man to break the lossless streak.
Ah, draws. Familiar, comforting, draws. Or terrible, boring, frustrating draws, take your pick. Ed and Paul run the rule over the West Brom and Everton games at Old Trafford, and try and break down just where it’s all going wrong for Jose Mourinho’s side.
Has Manchester United manager José Mourinho regressed into his bad cop routine just a little too early? The pattern is familiar, the one in which Dirty Harry challenges his punk players to try their luck. Just one more time. It begins with key players being ostracised in an increasingly public fashion, as if to distract from on-the-pitch failings, and ends with Mourinho leaving his post ignominiously, player power having won. Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Chelsea again. Bad cop gone bad. The red flags are many at Old Trafford as well. In the course of a week Mourinho launched into an astonishing and public attack on his creative players, before throwing youthful defender Luke Shaw under a lengthy bus. Yet, for all the concerns raised by Mourinho the man manager this week it is another pattern that is troubling the Portuguese coach most – the inability of his team to win games at Old Trafford. It will probably cost the club a place in next season’s Champions League.
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.
Manchester United’s owners, the Glazer family, will make the first move towards creating a global Manchester United sports empire this summer, with the acquisition of at least one, and perhaps three, overseas clubs. Reports in Florida overnight suggest that the Glazer family is deep in negotiations with clubs in Japan, Brazil and the United States about multi-million dollar acquisitions of up to three clubs.