Manchester United returns to Europa League action this week and faces one of France’s most important clubs, Saint-Etienne. The Reds entertain Les Verts at Old Trafford in the first leg this Thursday before heading to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for the return match next week. Rant had a grand tête-à-tête with French Football Weekly’s Jeremy Smith to get the lowdown on the team from the Rhône-Alpes.
Let’s face it, the Glazer family, esteemed owners of Manchester United, aren’t exactly the most popular lot amongst the fanbase. Their presence inspires a range of emotions from ambivalence to outright hatred. Yet, like it or not, the family doesn’t look like it’ll sell the club anytime soon. For the moment there’s no urgency to do so. The club is valued at over $3 billion and hoovers up money like a well-oiled machine, and even though it is public, the family controls the majority shareholding.
The United number 7 is a shirt that carries plenty of history, albeit in recent times a jersey that was held by gifted yet ultimately lightweight talents. While the club is looking for a worthy successor to don the fabled number 7, José Mourinho is fully aware that a new number 16 could be required sooner rather than later.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s equalizer against Liverpool at Old Trafford is a breathtakingly good goal. His sense to take a couple of steps back into a tiny pocket of space thus giving Antonio Valencia a clear target for a cross demonstrated the instincts of a top-class and experienced striker. His header was placed, inch perfect high into the goal. Make no mistake it was not easy to execute. What shouldn’t get lost in the joy and relief of Ibrahimović’s leveler was his reaction to the goal.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s situation at Old Trafford is an interesting study. The youngster made an impressive start to life at United last season, one of the few bright sparks during the Louis van Gaal era, and it seems only a matter of time before he fully develops into a top-class footballer. The Dutchman is already a fan favourite and there’s widespread clamour for the youngster to get more games under his belt. Yet, his talents have been overlooked by José Mourinho in favour of more experienced pros. Is there a route into the first team?
Whisper it but the outlook is a lot rosier for José Mourinho and his Manchester United side. The Reds have embarked on a seven game winning streak delivering different types of victories in the process… but victories nonetheless.
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.
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.
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?
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.