Tuesday 25 July 2017

Why Manchester United don't deserve to qualify for the Champions League

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

Alistair Tweedale

A relaxed Jose Mourinho did his interviews after Sunday's defeat at Arsenal with the odd smirk and shrug of the shoulders. He didn't care about losing, it seemed.

Why was the Manchester United manager so chirpy having just lost his unbeaten record against Arsene Wenger, in doing so effectively ending any remaining chances of achieving a top four finish?

Mourinho has decided to make Europa League glory his priority - the route he considers to be United's best chance of making it into next season's Champions League. And there is silverware that comes with it, unlike the Fourth Place Trophy he would otherwise be chasing. Europe's second competition is the only major trophy United have yet to win.

So it is easy to understand his thinking: try and overcome Celta Vigo and (probably) Ajax rather than trying to win at Arsenal, Tottenham and Southampton, as well as Crystal Palace at home, when those wins would not even have guaranteed a top-four finish. It makes sense.

But the lack of ambition United showed at the Emirates was nothing new: this is an expensively assembled squad that has not scored a single goal away from home against any of their top six rivals this season. Few expect them to change that - or make much attempt to do so - in the final game at White Hart Lane on Sunday, just three days after the second leg of their highly prioritised semi-final.

At home things haven't been much different. A 2-0 win over Chelsea, weakened that by illness in the squad, was the main highlight, while they stuttered past a below-par Spurs, very nearly lost to  Liverpool and drew with Arsenal.

Mourinho has at his fingertips the means (and plentiful funds) to create a team capable of challenging for the title, or at the very least the top four, but instead he has one of the Premier League's least exciting sides, now content to lose 2-0 at a team with whom they have shared one of English football's greatest rivalries, simply because they came away without any injuries that might disrupt their Europa League hopes.

United have been outscored this season by every other team in the top seven, as well as Bournemouth, who might not even make the top half. They have drawn more games than any other team, with 14, not a single game of which was higher-scoring than 1-1. Only Middlesbrough's matches have features fewer goals than United's.

Yes, they went 25 games unbeaten between October and May, but the number of painfully dull draws detracts from much of the achievement. That is precisely the reason his team have received so little praise. In terms of entertainment, United provide the least value for money in the division.

You have to give Mourinho credit for the fact that he is two games from a second trophy in his first season at Old Trafford, but they will have achieved that goal in the least commendable way possible.

It is one thing grinding out results for an entire season and winning the league - or at least challenging - thanks to 1-0 wins. That is how plenty of Mourinho's best teams built their success.

But his United team have the talent to have turned goalless draws against the likes of Hull, West Brom and Burnley as well as 1-1 stalemates with Stoke (twice), West Ham, Swansea and Bournemouth into victories.

It is a damning indictment of their manager that they have dropped points against so many teams they would have expected to beat, and that they have done so consistently throughout the campaign.

It has been a problem since the early weeks of the season, but not one that Mourinho has addressed sufficiently. The decision in the autumn to drop Wayne Rooney and bring in Henrikh Mkhitaryan while also reinstating Michael Carrick bore fruit but still left work to be done. It's now May and United's problems remain as prevalent as ever.

Mourinho's main responsibility is not to entertain. but it is his job to get results. United's have not been good enough.

The season at Old Trafford has not been worthy of Champions League qualification, and particularly in light of the amount of money spent last summer, United won't deserve to be in the draw regardless of Europa League success.

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