Well it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? When the draw for the CL group stages was made back in December, most people anticipated a bit of a pasting and that’s what we received at Old Trafford the other night. I’d suggest we shouldn’t be too despondent given what’s occurred over the last couple of months. It’s testament to the fantastic progress made that many people I spoke to felt confident going into the PSG home leg, so the 2nd half capitulation must have come as a bit of a surprise in some quarters. It was a timely reality check for all concerned, nothing to get wound up about. We’ve come a long way in recent weeks, but PSG are a top side whilst United most certainly aren’t still… despite recent appearances to the contrary.
When you consider where we were in mid-December, what Solskjaer has achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable. The players now look hungry and motivated, there’s a coherent game plan in place and for the first time in literally years, the man in charge seems to have a grasp of what our best starting XL is. To put all that in place within 8-9 weeks is a fantastic achievement. The players are happy, the fans are buoyant and results have improved immeasurably. Olé has made it all look easy when it most certainly isn’t. Our travails over the last 5 years have proven that beyond doubt.
His first masterstroke was relegating Lukaku to the subs bench. Yes, we know he can score goals but as a mate pointed out recently, it doesn’t change the fact he possesses the touch of a phone box. He provided a couple of wonderful assists at Arsenal in the cup recently, but moments like that from him are far too infrequent. Mourinho spent a lot of money on the bloke and felt obliged to play him every week, which I can understand, but don’t we look so much better with players with a reliable first touch who can move the ball on quickly?
The other major Mourinho blind spot that’s been addressed is Fellaini, thankfully shipped off to China and out of our lives forever. I read so much utter crap about him in the immediate aftermath of his departure that it made me wonder if I’ve been watching the same player over the last 5 years. Firstly, I’m fully aware he scored 5 or 6 important goals during his time at the club. That doesn’t change the fact he was a bloody awful footballer who proved more of a hindrance than a help on the vast majority of occasions he was brought on as the much-vaunted ‘Plan B’ his deluded cheerleaders continually refer to.
It’s quite simple. I don’t care if a player simply ‘tries hard’. Of course players should try hard, it goes without saying. Viv Anderson ‘tried hard’, Colin Gibson ‘tried hard’, Alan Smith clenched his fists a lot and ‘tried hard’. They were still shite. Fellaini lumbered round, shinned the ball into touch and gave away fouls for the best part of his United career. His mere presence on the pitch prompted a brain-dead, lump-it-forward mentality that saw us dismantle a 20 year legacy of nuanced, pressing football in the final minutes of games where we desperately needed a goal. I’m sorry, he’s probably a nice feller and all that but I prefer to deal with the reality of what I actually witnessed time and time again. He was absolute rubbish and dragged us down to the level of a pub team at times.
Once Lingard and Martial had been withdrawn due to injury, it didn’t take long for United’s fragilities to reveal themselves in the PSG game. Mata is no replacement for Martial when pushed out wide and Sanchez remains so hopelessly out of form that it now looks terminal. Given the miserable 12 months he’s endured since his much-hyped arrival, it’s difficult to see a way back for him from here. Solskjaer has done the right thing in taking him out of the firing line and limiting his time on the pitch, but whenever he’s briefly called upon it only provides further evidence he’s a completely spent force at this juncture.
Much like Di Maria during his short stint at United, it clearly just isn’t working out. Unlike Di Maria though, there doesn’t seem to be any underlying domestic issue and he isn’t demonstrably agitating for a move away. Sanchez looks for all the world like a man that’s reached his peak career-wise who’s hurtling down the steep decline towards mediocrity as his long-trusted abilities elude him. I just don’t know what the answer is. Presumably I’m not the only one as I expect the coaching staff are pretty much stumped at this point too. Maybe his dogs aren’t settled? Perhaps the piano needs re-tuning? I’ve no idea to be honest.
Looking ahead over the next month, we’ve got some absolute belters coming up. Today we have the opportunity to upset Liverpool’s title challenge, there’s the return leg against PSG in a couple of weeks, closely followed by Arsenal away and City at home. Not wishing to sound dramatic, but a couple of months ago the prospect of that run of fixtures would have seen me tampering with the boiler and removing batteries from the carbon monoxide detector.
We won’t win each of these games coming up, in fact we will more than likely get our arses handed to us on a couple of occasions. That’s no problem, I can live with that. For the moment, I’m just content with the fact United have at least become watchable again. Football has become something to look forward to and each game no longer feels like a soul-crushing exercise in self-flagellation and excruciating boredom. Nice one Olé, that will do nicely for now.
Copyright Red News – February 2019