Manchester United missed a chance to get a morale-boosting win as they drew 0-0 at home in the Champions League on Tuesday night. Not that they were the better side, but a win against Valencia would have dragged them from the toxic vortex in which they have been floundering for some time.
Though both teams responded well from their previous domestic clashes, the match ended goalless. United put in a better performance than in their 3-1 defeat against West Ham United, but the problems for Jose Mourinho’s men remain the same. Everything in the red half of Manchester seems irreparable.
The Portuguese coach is constantly under fire from various directions and everything suggests his time at the club is over. Following United’s latest poor performance, Mourinho was heavily criticized by club legends Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes.
The latter was “surprised that he survived after Saturday” and said that Mourinho is “embarrassing the club” at the moment. The whole situation is hugely debatable, as surely nobody can blame only Mourinho for this, nor the players alone either. The problems run far deeper and certainly include the board. As rumours of Zinedine Zidane becoming the new Manchester United coach are rising, Ed Woodward will soon have to make a final decision.
Shaw and Rashford the only bright lights in United’s squad
Against Valencia, Manchester United showed a willingness to turn things around, but in general we saw another dull performance. There were periods of clarity when Marcus Rashford threatened from the left-hand side with his bursts of dribbling and long-range shots.
Alongside him, Luke Shaw also put in a decent performance supporting his international teammate with overlapping runs, while also standing firm in defence. In the end, Rashford’s late free-kick could’ve been an inch or two lower and a completely different story would’ve been written.
What United lacked against Valencia on Tuesday night was togetherness. It seems every bond between the players in red shirts has been broken. I felt I was watching a few talented individuals who are trying to work out something from nothing. United were even late to the match, resulting in having to request the kick-off be delayed as the squad arrived at Old Trafford later than expected.
Goncalo Guedes, Jose Luis Gaya, and Michy Batshuayi were a constant threat to United’s right-hand side where Antonio Valencia operated (or did not). The experienced Ecuadorean lacked almost everything that night. He was constantly late to close down an opponent, and in attack he didn’t provide any support for Alexis Sanchez (who himself was even worse). The Chilean is now probably one of the worst performing ‘elite’ players in Europe, or maybe the world.
Romelu Lukaku was barely present either, so it was Paul Pogba who, as per Twelve’s ratings, was the best United performer against the Spanish side.
The task against Newcastle will be tougher than expected
Manchester United now find themselves second in the group before back-to-back games against leaders Juventus, but before that, they have to face Newcastle. At first, it looks like Mourinho and United have another perfect chance to turn things around, as they’re facing a team in the bottom three, but Rafa Benitez’ side will be tougher than expected. It’s not because the Magpies have some particular strengths which can hurt their opponent though.
The problem is with, you guessed, Manchester United themselves and their obvious weaknesses. Against Valencia, the Red Devils once again showed where their problems lie. There is no attack from Mourinho’s side. Only 26% of Manchester United’s attacking possession has occurred in the opposition third of the pitch, which ranks them 16th in the league. They struggle to enter the opposition box as well. Only 60% of their shots have come from inside the box which ranks them 14th in the top flight.
Open play is one of the biggest issues that Manchester United has at this moment and was perfectly presented against West Ham and Valencia. The simple fact they have conceded more goals from open play (seven) than they have scored (five) is alarming enough.
The one thing Benitez knows how to do well is set up a defence. In support of that, Newcastle are expected to sit deep and hit the hosts on the counter on Saturday. As we’ve seen United fail to solve their issues so far this season, it’s questionable if they will be able to break down the Geordies’ defense next weekend.
The Magpies have nothing to lose at Old Trafford. They already have big problems this season, but they certainly won’t lack motivation, especially when having the chance to knock down an already heavily wounded beast.
A win for Benitez and Newcastle this weekend can prove a spark to their season and more importantly end Mourinho’s reign at United. A lose or draw won’t hurt them much, but it will continue the suffering we are witnessing at Old Trafford.