Wednesday 19 June 2019

Shambolic United still making life more difficult

Valencia 2-1 Manchester United

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba reacts after missing a chance. Photo: AP
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba reacts after missing a chance. Photo: AP

Miguel Delaney

The line-up changes, the opposition changes, the context changes but nothing about a miserable Manchester United does.

A dull and passive fragility now seems to be their defining trait as a team.

They can still rouse themselves for some individual matches, sure, but those exceptions seem to only emphasise this fundamental problem so fully displayed in what would otherwise have been an entirely inconsequential one-goal away defeat to Valencia.

As for the former, mind, so much for building up momentum ahead of that ominous trip to Liverpool on Sunday. So much, too, for building up momentum in the Champions League.

That Juventus's shock 2-0 defeat away to Young Boys meant United had squandered the chance to finish top of the group - and definitely avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 - only adds to the sense of pointless drift about this regime.

Lowest-scoring

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford scores their first goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford scores their first goal. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Right now they seem capable of making an avoidable problem out of anything. Even a match that should have meant nothing became a story, as Spain's lowest-scoring side scored twice against them.

This is the wider problem. It as is if United so often play down to a level just below the opposition, something that seems to come from primarily reactive and passive tactics.

From that, just how fortunate does Marouane Fellaini's goal against Young Boys being allowed to stand now look? You wouldn't have fancied them having to get a result at the Mestalla on this evidence.

For their own part, and from their own pre-game comments, Valencia looked like a side energised by that injustice. And they were soon to have another.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly dejected after the match
Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly dejected after the match

After just a few minutes, Antonio Valencia sparked real life - and some bad feeling - into a game that was a dead-rubber, by going in so dangerously on youngster Lato. The full-back got a booking, but was fortunate not to have been given a red.

Valencia the player not getting sent off did, however, ensure Valencia the team were set off. The home side felt even more energised by injustice, and were soon celebrating.

On 17 minutes, after some slack defending from Fellaini and Marcos Rojo down the left, Carlos Soler brilliantly drilled the ball into the bottom of the net from just inside the box. He might also have been sending a message of his own.

The 21-year-old is a hugely promising attacking midfielder who has been watched a lot by United over the last few years, although it could be said the current players were doing a bit of that too.

They just watched as Soler - with yards of space in the box around him - was left to pick his spot. Remarkably, there was probably even less intensity from United further up the pitch at that point. They just weren't really pressing.

If Paul Pogba was supposed to use this match to put forward his argument for getting back in the team for the trip to Liverpool, it often felt like no one had made this clear to him.

His first half was particularly sluggish, and only caused a bit of a jolt from a negative: a bad miss from close range, even if the flag did immediately go up for offside.

It had been so bad for United that Phil Jones was visibly berating some of his team-mates for slackness before half-time, only to very quickly be culpable for something worse himself.

Looking to beat Michy Batshuayi to a breaking ball, he somehow only managed to slide in and put enough force on it that it farcically flew past Sergio Romero.

It was just another mishap, just another image of the shambles that United have become.

Adding to that image was Romero's reaction. The ball hadn't yet crossed the line and he was on his knees in anguish like in the key scene from 'Platoon'.

Soundtracking this to something as grandiose as 'Adagio for Strings' would be to give United too much of a compliment.

They did at least give their own fans something to sing about with a late Marcus Rashford header to make it 2-1, but it didn't change anything about the feel of the night.

Nothing seems to change about United right now. That just leads to more obvious, bigger questions. That they're being asked after a game that should have been as meaningless as this says enough.

Independent News Service

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