In our last Red Devils’ Advocate, we focused on Manchester United’s woeful start to the season. Thankfully, a much-needed international break gave Mourinho and his team time to refocus. Before the break, United had only won two of their four games, losing the others. Since then, United have played another four games, with arguably more worrying results.
In the league, Manchester United have picked up four points from an available six. Those numbers are far from horrible, but to drop points at home to Wolves is unacceptable.
The silver lining from the last couple of weeks is a convincing triumph over Young Boys in the Champions League. But behind that silver lining is a dark cloud in the shape of Derby. Perhaps this calamity of a result is down to the players, or, perhaps it’s down to the manager. Whatever the problem is, it needs to change, and fast.
Summary of the last four games
Watford have been the dark horse of the Premier League so far, and we beat them 1-2. It’s three points in the bag, but Manchester United’s game management raised some red flags. Red flags that would come back and bite us in the arse a few games later.
In the first half, when Manchester United scored both goals, United dominated the play. The Red Devils completed 315 passes to Watford’s 179 and registered 408 touches to Watford’s 268. Jose’s men also recorded eight shots in the first half to Watford’s five.
In the second half, things completely changed. Manchester United only made 205 passes, while Watford completed 208. Touches on the ball dropped to 292, while Watford raised their touches to 310. And shots? In the second half, Manchester United only recorded one shot, while Watford once again raised their statistic to eight.
It was a completely different game, and Watford found themselves back in the competition through Andre Gray. Watford nearly equalised, but a jaw-dropping David DeGea save denied Christian Kabasele’s header in what was nearly the last play of the game.
Perhaps the only real positive to take away from the last couple of weeks is Manchester United’s game against Young Boys. Forget the 0-3 win, we actually looked like a good football team. Two actual fullbacks and some excitement going forward.
The standout performance of the night was Diogo Dalot, who made his first appearance in a first team United shirt. Across the board, the 19-year-old Portuguese right-back’s statistics impressed. He made two great runs forward, made six clearances and 45 passes, four of which were crosses. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a United right-back put in a successful cross. Of his 45 passes, 25 were forward.
Luke Shaw‘s performance also deserves an honourable mention, with the young Englishman surpassing Dalot’s performance. Shaw made 63 passes, 36 of which were forward. Of those 36 forward passes, 11 were in the final third. Only Nemanja Matic made more passes than him during the game with 77.
A game isn’t won with just full-backs, but in today’s modern game, they make a big difference. Just look at how much Pep Guardiola spent on full-backs since arriving at City and how important Alonso is to Chelsea. It is no surprise that having Shaw and Dalot on the field, willing to make runs up the field and put in crosses, contributed to this successful result.
Okay, back to reality. I wish I could say it was just a bad nightmare, but this is our life now apparently. This game is a bit of an anomaly, as Manchester United’s statistics improved in the second half. They went from 336 passes and 411 touches in the first half to 348 passes and 455 touches in the second. With that being said, the small margins of improvement really only constitute this as maintaining their pace. Strangely, United went from only three shots in the first half to 12 in the second.
The statistic that tells the biggest story is losses of possession. United gave the ball away a grand total of 24 times. Can anyone remember Wolves’ first goal? That’s right, a Paul Pogba dispossession.
Wolves dispossessed Pogba for simply holding onto the ball for too long. The problem is, this doesn’t just create a defensive liability, it also slows down United’s attack. A bit more speed, creativity, and risk-taking in the middle could see us create a more dynamic attack.
I don’t even want to talk about this game, to be honest. The statistics tell you everything. Manchester United were bested by Derby in almost every category that counted. United made 446 passes, Derby made 498. United recorded 621 touches and Derby 676. Most importantly, Derby managed 17 shots while United only managed 15.
Now, I’ll admit, 17 shots to 15 is a small margin, but it’s also Derby. Which brings me to my point. Manchester United at Old Trafford isn’t a scary fixture anymore. If teams like Derby can waltz into the Theatre of Dreams and put on a performance like that with no consequence, well there is a big problem.
What’s going on?
Last week, I would have said I have no idea what the problem is. To be honest, I still don’t quite know, but I can hazard a guess it has something to do with dressing room dynamics. The quality of players is there, and regardless of who Jose Mourinho wanted in the summer, the lads should never lose to Derby. Not like that at least.
So what are the biggest takeaways from the last four games? Firstly, Manchester United need to kill off games. We gave up a winning position against both Wolves and Derby after scoring first, and almost gave up a win against Watford from a winning position as well. Even against Young Boys, United could and should be winning that game by larger margins. Just look at what Liverpool and City are doing to their opposition.
Secondly, why don’t we play Shaw and Dalot whenever they are fit? We clearly play better when we have that extra attacking dynamic from the flanks. Shaw has locked down the fullback position, but it’s time for Dalot to be given his. I get that Mourinho wants to ease him into it, but the statistics above suggest he is ready. Get them both on the park frequently and let’s see what it produces.
Third, we are too slow. Way too slow. If we add a bit of creativity and speed in the middle, we will produce more up top. Maybe this is what Pogba is talking about with his “attack, attack, attack” comments? If Jose is discouraging this, then I don’t know how he has made it this long. It’s obvious the midfielders need a fire lit under their arses.
Lastly, we’re not the Manchester United of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. The Red Devils don’t scare small teams off anymore. Teams like Frank Lampard’s Derby come to Old Trafford and walk all over us. Part of this is a result of my first point; a lack of ruthlessness. This is an organisational issue as well though. It’s rooted in the club’s ownership and its instinct to put profit before performance.
What do fans think?
In the last Red Devils’ Advocate, I highlighted the division between fans. It seems now, however, that fans almost unanimously agree there is a deep problem within the club.
Some put blame on the club’s owners, claiming their beloved United is no more than an emblem owned by the Glazer’s to make money.
Could anyone please answer if @ManUtd is a football club or just a brand now because this girl signed up for the football 20 odd years ago not to line some businessmens’ pockets. <Shrugs>
— Anna_MUFC (@mufc_anna) September 25, 2018
Many fans were left confused at the priorities of the club during its financial update last week.
— ᗷIᒪᒪ ᖇIᑕᕮ ?? (@billrice23) September 25, 2018
Others recognize the contributions of the club’s ownership, but place blame on fiscal irresponsibility during the transfer window.
The Glazer ownership continues to drain ££ from #MUFC but don’t think the club haven’t spent heavily on players. They have. They have just so spent much of it badly.
— Ian Ladyman (@Ian_Ladyman_DM) September 25, 2018
But most of all, fans are disappointed.
Ridiculously poor. Teams just aren’t fussed about coming to OT these days. Know they can get a result. The League Cup isn’t important but performance just so, so bad. #MUFC
— Matthew Law (@MLAW29) September 25, 2018
Luckily, most fans can all agree on one thing.
Fellaini really is one of the best "Plan B' in football. He's saved us after the 80th minute so many times.
— R™ (@RealTalkMUFC) September 25, 2018
I have been backing Mourinho as long as he’s been here, even after those crushing defeats to both Sevilla and then Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. EVEN after that defeat to Spurs as I feel Jose has been let down by an incompetent boardroom. But his recent evident splitting of the dressing room is not acceptable, no man and especially no player is bigger than the club but this all looks intentional from Jose. It’s as if he thought he had the fans onside and now could have a go at who he wished, to what end I don’t know.
Additionally, his remit is to win trophies, play attractive football and bring through young players but that is not Jose Mourinho. He’s a winner but only when it’s done his way – seasoned pros, expensive transfer market outlays and reactive, counter-attacking football. If the board are not willing to go down that route (and they shouldn’t be) then Jose is the wrong man for the job. But those making these decisions wouldn’t know a football if it smacked them in the face. I thought (desperately hoped) Mourinho might change for the better at United but he hasn’t.
The fact that United can put in such a pathetic performance at home to a Championship side, yet still retain their manager, shows what a sorry state they are in. The manager is alienating the players, there are several players who aren’t good enough and the board doesn’t know what they are doing. I say this a lot about consumerist capitalism, but it applies to United at the moment too: BURN IT DOWN, BURN IT DOWN! Sack the manager, sell the dross, promote the kids and let’s play good, attacking football. I’m more mad about this than I am about Brexit.
For all the divide amongst United fans over who is to blame, one thing is abundantly clear. With the current personnel at all levels of the club, a league title challenge is a million miles off. It’s never been about some arrogant divine right to be champions, but to be competing. We can pretend the League Cup means nothing, but I want to win everything. If we fall short but at least fight to the death, fair enough. The limp circus United have become, however, is embarrassing. Champions League? We’re not even the best team in our city, let alone country or continent.
It seems to be that this season is literally going to be a rollercoaster ride for Manchester United supporters. We’re just about settling into it and already there have been massive swings of mood and opinion around the club. While United looked like they had got brought themselves back from the brink with wins in the league and in Europe, draws against Wolves and Derby have once again deflated the atmosphere around Old Trafford. United have not taken their chances in these games, and an early exit from the League Cup means that there will be fewer games to go around for the fringe players.
As for the Pogba-Mourinho stuff, it looks like it is going to be a messy saga that will probably result in one or both of them leaving the club. I have my grievances against both parties, but at the end of the day, United are suffering on and off the pitch because of this. The complete lack of leadership by Ed Woodward and co doesn’t bode well either. Strap in for a bumpy ride; this season is going to be quite the journey.
Playing Red Devil’s Advocate
Okay, everyone is having a go at the manager, and while I agree Jose is a big part of the problem, the state of modern football needs a shake. Players shouldn’t be blasting the manager’s tactics in front of a camera, regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Be a grownup and knock on the manager’s door. If he’s still not willing to listen, suck it up, do your best, and wait for him to be sacked. Do your talking on the field. I’m looking at you Paul Pogba.
Pogba isn’t saying he’s ‘bigger than the club’ by suggesting we play attacking football, he’s just acting like a baby in the way he’s doing it. Mourinho has the right to be annoyed but doesn’t have to make a fool of Pogba in the media. Time to grow up gents.
But Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho’s feud isn’t the sole cause of Manchester United’s downfall. Poor results were there before both of them showed up. If we sack them both today, the problems will still be there tomorrow.
The whole team needs a shake. Every player in the squad is capable of doing great things on the pitch. That’s why such a big club bought them. Even Phil Jones played Cristiano Ronaldo off the park back in 2013. Wake up lads and start bringing your best game. If not, get out of the club.
But hey, it’s the team we love, and we must march on too. Sir Alex Ferguson spoiled us for far too long. We need to take the silver spoon out of our mouth and pick up a red pitchfork. This is Manchester United for Christ’s sake. Please don’t let us become Liverpool. Let’s stop complaining and start focusing on the positives.
Yes, Manchester United’s appearance somewhat resembles a dumpster fire as of late, but it’s not all grim and gloomy. Manchester United fans do have some things to cheer about.
One, we might have solved the fullback situation. We mentioned above how important Shaw and Dalot were to the Young Boys result. If Mourinho starts giving Dalot frequent game time, he could prove himself to be a huge asset. At 19-years-of-age, the Portuguese defender still has a lot to prove, but his performances so far speak for themselves.
Two, Martial has looked good recently. While the Derby game was disappointing, he managed to record five shots, three successful dribbles and made 51 touches on the ball. He made 18 forward passes of 34, and made three key passes, more than anyone else on the field. Against Young Boys, Martial made 50 passes, 21 of which were forward. Let’s not forget, he also bagged himself a goal in that game. Overall, his performances have started to look a lot better, which should send a warning to out-of-form Alexis Sanchez.
And three, Fellaini is an amazing plan B. That’s a compliment to him too because we seem to need him far too regularly in search of a goal. Fellaini won seven aerial duels against Watford, six against Wolves, and four against Derby. His ability to dominate opposing defenders is parallel to none, and it proved useful in the dying embers of the Derby match. The only game he didn’t best the rest of the field in the ariel duels statistic was Young Boys when a desperate goal was not needed. He’s a useful tool. We don’t need to be thankful that we need him, but instead thankful that we have him.
It still isn’t good enough. Manchester United fans have been patient, but I’m still not sure what we are waiting for. Are we waiting for Jose to adapt his style and start winning games? Are we waiting for a new manager to come in? Or are we waiting for things to just pan out for themselves? Whatever it is, it better happen fast.
West Ham is just around the corner. As a team drowning at the bottom of the league, this is United’s chance to go on the offensive. A one-goal win won’t do against the Hammers, it must be ruthless. A brutal and sadistic massacre must occur. United need to prove that they can not only win games but do so swagger and savagery.
A convincing win against West Ham is vital going into our second Champions League game against Valencia. The competition in the Champions League is stronger than ever. It is pivotal that United gain points in every group stage game to finish second in the group, let alone first. We may not win the League, and we’re out of the League Cup, but maybe, just maybe, there’s still a chance to do well in Europe. At least we have that.