A week is a long time in football. The headlines after last Monday’s 0-0 Liverpool draw highlighted a disciplined, organized, typical Mourinho performance. After Thursday’s 4-1 win and the Paul Pogbaing of Fenerbahce the active adjective was “demolish.” Now it’s Humiliated!!!!! following Sunday’s admittedly desperate 4-0 loss against Chelsea, and oh btw Pogba is now “embarrassing.”
Seven days, three games – from disciplined to diabolical. The Einsteins are out in force again. Martin Palazzotto whose commentary I often really enjoy at Stretty News sticks the knife in good and proper. Like a few others he’s calling for Jose Mourinho to be sacked. C’mon Martin, he’s been in charge for 9 Premiere League games and lost 3. I didn’t want him either for a whole host of reasons; the incident with the Chelsea team Doc; the way his teams play; the reluctance to play youth; the meltdowns; the psychodrama; but now he’s the United manager and just as I argued for Van Gaal to be given time, Mourinho deserves time too. His return to Stamford Bridge was dreadful, truly, truly dreadful and the after match spat with Conte was pure Mourinho, an instant sideshow to deflect from the result. However, there is no instant cure at old Trafford. It took Alex Ferguson 5 years to build a championship winning side, and as Jacob Steinberg argues in the Guardian ,United need to think long term again.
Yes they have spent a galactic bundle. Yes it’s obscene how much players and managers are paid. Yes there is complete economic dislocation between the fans who might take a year to earn what Marcus Rashford earns in a week, or 10 years to pocket what Wayne Rooney does. Yes United are a global marketing machine and brand. Yes, yes, yes, yes to all the countless fair minded criticisms and calls for fan ownership,, a big YES on that one, because we are all right. But in the end it’s always about what happens on the pitch and Mourinho is charged with putting that right.
Next up of course is, oh, City on Wednesday in the League Cup. A derby when you least want it in a money-making irrelevant competition which if United lose will again unleash the Einsteins. That’s three of the League’s top 5 teams in 10 days. Two of them away. Two against the club’s fiercest rivals. After the coaching superpower club of Klopp and Conte now comes its figurehead, Guardiola. City, of course, are having their own issues. Wednesday couldn’t have come at a worse time for both clubs as both try to reassert themselves. But let someone else talk about City. What can Mourinho and United do?
There are plenty of questions. Who does Mourinho really trust? Where does the midfield balance come from? What has happened to Mikhitaryan? Why are Shaw, Darmian, Schneiderlin and even Martial sidelined?
Bailly’s loss with potentially a long term knee ligament injury is, of course, a major setback. Mourinho has to first and foremost reorganize his defence, re-establish some confidence, and refocus the troops. All by Wednesday night. My bet is Carrick brings stability in front of a back four of Valencia, Smalling, Blind and Shaw. Then we’re off to the races. Pogba, Rashford or Martial and Zlatan play. So two players out of Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Lingard, Mata, Young, and Schneiderlin. Fellaini is likely out. Where does the pace, mobility, steel, and dynamism come from? If it’s me Schneiderlin plays, and I go a very fluid 4-2-3-1
Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Shaw
Mkhitaryan Pogba Rashford
If it’s not obvious by now Sunday’s loss doesn’t distress me as much as others. There are good players at Old Trafford. More will arrive, and there are youngsters in the pipeline. Someone has to be given the time to mould these players into a team. It should be Mourinho. That’s why he was hired.
The bugles are blowing louder than ever on Wayne Rooney’s United career. It’s time, and he probably knows it more than anyone. It won’t be a surprise if during January’s transfer window he left for the U.S. or China. The fact that tomorrow he’ll be on the bench for England against Slovenia in the World Cup qualifying game is as plain a signal as you can get. He’s a sub at international and club level. He can still summon a surge, ask the Crystal Palace fans after his guts and determination run set up the equalizer in the Cup Final. But these days those runs are a cameo. The game has taken it’s toll. Midfield is not his natural position, it never will be. He looks for Hollywood passes when much of the the game is played in 3-5 yard areas. And in those areas the ball too often slips away. The darting Iniesta role doesn’t suit him.
Now it’s time for the fans to pay him the respect he deserves. Twelve seasons of unforgettable moments, success, courage and skill at United. All the time while being kicked and battered for the cause and playing in the hardest role of all.
Statistics tell his story and reflect his contribution.
- Joined Manchester United for £25.6 million from Everton in the 2004 summer transfer window.
- With Rooney in the team, United won the Premier League five times, the UEFA Champions League once, the FIFA Club World Cup once, the FA Community Shield four times, the Football League Cup twice and the FA Cup once.
- In September 2013, Rooney scored his 200th goal for Manchester United. He is currently on 246 goals, making him the club’s second top goalscorer of all time behind Bobby Charlton’s 249.
- His 194 Premier League goals make him the competition’s second top scorer of all time to Alan Shearer’s 260, and he holds the record for most goals for one club in the Premier League, with 179.
- Rooney made his senior international debut in February 2003 aged 17, becoming the youngest player to represent England (a record since broken by Theo Walcott) and he is England’s youngest ever goalscorer. He played at UEFA Euro 2004 and scored four goals, briefly becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the European Championship.
- Rooney has since featured at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups. He has won the England Player of the Year award four times, in 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2015. With 53 goals in 115 international caps, Rooney is England’s all-time record goalscorer and second most-capped player.
- In 2009–10, Rooney was awarded the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year. He has won the Premier League Player of the Month award five times, a record only bettered by Steven Gerrard. He came fifth in the vote for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or and was named in the FIFPro World 11 for 2011.
- Rooney has won the Goal of the Season award by the BBC‘s Match of the Day poll on three occasions, with his bicycle kick against City winning the Premier League Goal of the 20 Seasons award.
You cannot argue with, diminish or demean those statistics and what they represent. It’s insulting when some fans do. Plain and simple he’s run out of gas. In many other Premiere League teams he’d still be a major force, but United are striving to win the Championship again and there are bigger, quicker, more dynamic, more mobile options available. The body eventually wears out, and Rooney’s has. It happens to every player.
Where does he sit in United’s list of greats? Post war in no particular order we’ve had Edwards, Byrne, Best, Law, Charlton, Robson, Schmeichel, Keane, Cantona, Irwin, Stam, Ferdinand, Vidic, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, and Ronaldo. Rooney is in that list. Has to be. At his peak he was a devastating force and easily Britain’s best player.
As noted above he’s scored 246 goals for the club. Three behind Bobby Charlton’s club record of 249. Will he break it? I hope so. United can’t afford to try and carry him to the record, but there are plenty of Cup games coming up.
It’s a milestone and personal triumph he deserves. At the highest level his brilliant, bruising career is over.
Three losses on the trot. The knives are out. Rooney is the fall guy. Mourinho’s not far behind, and United are back to playing Van Gaal’s sideways football. Not a good week. Yet it’s only September as Mata pointed out on his blog, and only City who have real daylight between United and the rest of the chasing pack. Maybe that’s why it’s so painful? City are wonderful to watch. De Bruyne the mastermind of their quick, mobile, swarming play. Guardiola style at it’s best. Liverpool aren’t far behind. Meanwhile United’s giants lumber.
The ruthless side of Mourinho will surely be seen in the coming weeks. The midfield has to have more dynamism and penetration. Pogba has to turn up. By the time the October crunch away fixtures against Chelsea and Liverpool arrive Mourinho has to find width, speed and a midfield combination that both protects and threatens. The key could be Mkhitaryan.
Surely there is a mix of pace, craft and steel in Mkhitaryan, Mata, Pogba, Lingard, Fellaini, Schneiderlin, and Carrick. When everyone is fit there’s just too many good players available. But it’s Mkhitaryan who is potentially the most interesting. The Czech Republic’s captain Suchy’s foul on the Armenian during the first match of the international break has had a significant impact on United. Mkhitaryan brings exactly the qualities of pace and imagination United need, and we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
The same can be said for Pogba. Underwhelming is too generous a word. We’ve witnessed flashes of brute force, power, and an occasional mazy run. But he aint no Zidane yet.
And what about the rest of the team? The criticism of Rooney is merciless. Yes he’s having a terrible time. However people are quick to forget there would be no FA Cup win without the driving run setting up Mata’s equaliser. The same determination created the winner at Hull. Yes he’s getting caught on the ball far too often. Yes the passes are less than pin point. And yes it maybe time to put him on the bench. But he’s not the reason United are misfiring. There’s no balance in the team.
Mourinho has the players. Perhaps some aren’t fit, but now is when a manager earns his corn. Unfortunately, for me anyway, Mourinho’s darker characteristics are showing. Blaming Luke Shaw publicly for the second goal at Watford isn’t exactly brilliant man management. Especially when Shaw is said to have had a reoccurrence of a long standing groin injury. Mourinho’s reputation for handling young or sensitive players is awful. Not exactly a nurterer our Jose.
Yet this is exactly a period when players need someone to lift them, and to make the best decisions for the team. If anyone needs to step up it’s the manager. Let’s see what the line up is against Leicester on Saturday.
Let’s not waste any time. City fully deserved to win the derby. Mourinho picked the wrong team, and rightfully accepted he did. De Bruyne maybe the Premiere League’s best player. Fernandinho, Otamendi and Silva were outstanding.
So what did we and Mourinho learn? For a start the world’s most expensive player has to get fit. This was one game where Pogba’s size and power weren’t enough. When a team moves the ball around like City you have to get it back quickly, not give it away, and if you do you have to have the stamina to chase. Pogba is lacking on the latter. Seriously lacking. Box to box midfielders are powerhouses who run all day.
Saturday was an intense test of fitness. Both teams were lagging late in the game. All credit to United and to Mourinho as City were taken out of their stride in the second half and made to work hard for their win, but when United needed Pogba he was gasping. In the first half he couldn’t keep up with City’s movement, in the second he was done.
Halftime of course was when Mkhitaryan and Lingard were hooked as City’s dominance and United’s impotence forced Mourinho to react and change.
In Mkhitaryan’s case the worry is what the ignominious 45 minutes does for his confidence? I got an e mail after the game from a friend who played at the highest level. He wrote:
“I don’t know much about him but to throw him straight into a Manchester ‘Derby’ after having not started any of their 3 league games as opposed to starting Rashford who is a local lad & would be inspired by the crowd AND the occasion was not fair on the Armenian.”
Indeed. The news after the match is that Mkhitaryan went for a scan on the thigh injury picked up in the International break.
As for Rashford, Mourinho has already pencilled him in to start in the Europa League game away at Feyenoord on Thursday, when there will be whole scale changes to the starting 11. Presumably Zlatan, who made his wonderful goal on Saturday look simple and then contrived to miss a much easier chance minutes later, gets a rest. Maybe Rooney, Valencia and Blind too? Shaw is said to have picked up an injury, so any of Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Martial, Mata, Fosu Mensah, and Darmian, may all play.
Curiously I’m not depressed by the derby result, nor are the guys at “Stretty News” . There’s obviously lots of work to be done. New players will again arrive in January, and maybe some of the kids will emerge. But nine points out of 12 is a solid start. it always hurts to lose to City, but as good as they were on Saturday they have a major weakness. All the other Premiere League coaches will have looked at Bravo’s sweeper keeper “performance” and smiled.
As my friend also wrote:
“I’ve listened to Guardiola’s post game comments & it sounds to me that he is desperate to boost Bravo’s confidence…he actually praised him…talk about being in denial!
The facts are that Bravo has played 70…YES only 70 games for Barcelona BEHIND one of the best teams in Spain…where there are maybe 3 teams who can win the league. Man City will not win the Premier League with him in goal”
If not City then who? United are obviously in transition, but they will give everyone a game this season. This squad is much, much improved. Mourinho will have learned a lot from this defeat. It’s very, very early.
For the first time since he became United manager Jose Mourinho isn’t having everything his own way. Yes City will be Aguero-less next Saturday, but Mourinho too has his issues. International breaks are always a manager’s nightmare and Mourinho faces anxious days before he knows whether Mkhitaryan, Fellaini and Shaw will be fit, plus the South American trio of Valencia, Rojo and Romero do not return to Manchester until Friday. It’s a shame a match of this importance arrives now.
It would have been interesting to see Mourinho’s best team. Mkhitaryan’s injury is potentially a huge blow, as Paul Merson says of last year’s Bundesliga Player of The Year “…he is different gravy.” His and Rashford’s game changing introductions at Hull promise so much for the future. We had a glimpse of a very different United in that final half hour at Tiger Stadium. Pace and danger threatened from all angles. Admittedly Hull’s threadbare squad were tired but that last half hour of constant pressure was a hint of what this United squad can deliver, and Mkhitaryan’s skills were a potent ingredient.
City too have issues going into Saturday with question marks around the fitness of two of their big summer signings Gundogan and Sane, as well as Aguero elbowing himself out. Nonetheless De Bruyne, Sterling, Iheanacho and Silva are dangerous footballers and Guardiola’s swarming tiki-taka is taking root.
The press will go to to town this week on this first Mourinho -Guardiola show down. It’s irresistible. However the two “despise each other” yada yada may overshadow a gripping on field match-up. Mourinho’s Giants v Guardiola’s Swarm. United are the bookie’s favorites, and Mancunian Macho Bragging Rights are up for grabs. But more important are the three points and the opportunity of some early separation from a team that like it or not are the biggest threat to United’s championship ambitions. Even if injury and suspension dilute the firepower both squads are loaded and reinforced by their joint 300 million pound summer spending spree. United will have Old Trafford baying for the win and City aren’t built to play for a draw. It’s a match made for Mourinho, Zlatan and Pogba to deliver.
Meanwhile one sour and curious note out of Old Trafford this week. What numbskull authorized the removal of Matt Busby’s name plaques from his seats in the director’s box? You can understand why his grandchildren and descendants were moved to equally decent seats somewhere else, but removing the great man’s name from a seat? ***Update the club now say seats will be “updated” in the director’s box with Busby’s name matching the same style as seats with Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson’s names on them.
They’re big. They’re hard. You’d better be on your guard. The new Manchester United are muscular, physical giants. Zlatan at 6ft 5″ Fellaini 6ft 4″ Smalling 6ft 4″ Pogba 6ft 3″ Bailly 6ft 2″. De Gea doesn’t count because most goalies are tall these days but he’s 6ft 4″also . United are Giganticos rather than Galacticos.
A quick review of all the teams in the league shows none with as many starting big guys. West Brom has two at 6ft 5″ in Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley but after that the next tallest outfielders are Johnny Evans and Chris Brunt at 6ft 2″. Arsenal have Mertesacker at 6ft 6” and Giroud at 6ft 4″. Stoke’s Arnautovic is 6ft 4″ and of course Crouch is 6ft 7, but these days he’s a reserve. City’s Vincent Kompany is 6ft 4″ then it’s John Stones at 6ft 2″. Chelsea’s Matic and Cahill are both 6ft 4″. Liverpool appear mere midgets. Their tallest player is Sturridge at 6ft 2″.
And now as the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor point out in his Southampton game match report plenty of teams are going to “feel the force”.
Zlatan has already outjumped and overwhelmed two formidable centre halves in Leicester’s Wes Morgan and prospective United target Southampton’s Jose Fonte to score two of his goals. Players were literally bouncing off Pogba on Friday night.
Bailly is overpowering attackers with his pace and strength. In contrast Fellaini has looked almost restrained. The wild man replaced by a calm, measured presence, tidying up in front of the back four. Who knew?
Mourinho’s teams have always had steel at their heart. Last season you always had the feeling other teams could bully United.
Not any more.