José Mourinho may already be in the last chance saloon at Manchester United following a disastrous week that saw the club knocked out of the League Cup at the hands of Derby, before suffering a humiliating 3-1 defeat against West Ham. Tuesday night provides the manager with the opportunity for some redemption when the team face Valencia in the Champions League.
Having won their opening game in the tournament 3-0 away to Young Boys, a home game against the Spanish side, who have won just one of their seven league games this season, should present an easy opportunity for Mourinho to win back some of his pride. Nobody will be betting on it being as simple as it looks on paper though, given United’s woes recently.
One positive from the recent trip to the London Stadium was the performance of substitute Marcus Rashford. Initially deployed on the right, before swapping to the left flank, the young forward brought more energy to United’s attack. He wanted to get involved in everything, having missed out on the last three games following his red card against Burnley, and was rewarded for his efforts with an excellent backheeled goal.
Given Romelu Lukaku’s wayward finishing so far this season, which is quite remarkable given he’s been on the score sheet fairly regularly, Mourinho could do worse than allowing Rashford to lead the line. However, it’s unlikely the manager will drop the Belgian. Rotation is not his strong suit and he’s a big fan of Lukaku, who has remained immensely loyal to Mourinho.
Paul Pogba is a player who is filling column inches daily, with his performances swinging from amazing to awful in a matter of days. He played a key role in United’s victory over Young Boys and you would imagine he would want to follow suit here, although questions have been raised over whether his heart is still in it. There are clearly issues with the manager, so while he would love to star on the European stage, he’s obviously struggling to motivate himself to play for Mourinho.
His stats look good for the season so far but they are largely boosted by the fact he has been given penalty taking duty, which has seen him score more goals than he otherwise would have done. Tuesday night presents him with the opportunity to again show what he is capable of, even if his incentive is catching the eye of Barcelona.
Marouane Fellaini has been Mourinho’s go-to player for some time, with the manager clearly a fan of the Belgian’s ability to follow instructions, even if he’s not blessed with the most ability.
He scored his first goal of the season against Derby last week, popping up at the death to score what should have been a vitally important equaliser for United’s 10 men. While he’ll never be a fans’ favourite, his performances this season have largely been good. He did well for Belgium at the World Cup, especially when tasked with marking Neymar during their game against Brazil, and has carried that form in to the league.
Mourinho will be looking for players he trusts against Valencia and Fellaini is certainly one of them. Defensively, he has provided decent cover for the largely inept players behind him and when called upon going forward he’s been a help.
More important than any individual though is the collective group pulling in the same direction, which has been missing recently. Mourinho will likely be tempted to revert to type and play defensively but at home against a team that is struggling in their own league, United need to go out on the attack. While there were mixed responses to Pogba choosing to air his opinion on United’s tactics, there won’t be any fans that don’t agree with his sentiment.
“When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack,” he said following the draw against Wolves. “That’s Old Trafford. We are here to attack. I think teams are scared when they see Man United attacking and attacking.”
Mourinho is unlikely to bow to pressure from the players or fans but there’s no logical reason against trying to scare Valencia. The Spaniards would gladly take a draw from this game so United need to come up with a plan to break them down and get the win. The manager’s job may be riding on it.