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After Manchester United’s incredible comeback victory in which they stopped their cross-town rivals Manchester City lifting the Premier League title, fans of José Mourinho’s men will be pondering why they can’t consistently achieve that level of performances.
It took until the second half, and being 2-0 down (which was fortunate given the amount of chances they were conceding), until the Red Devils came out of their shell and actually gave it a go. After a stern talking to by Michael Carrick and Ashley Young in the dressing room, in which they told their teammates to start playing with pride and to stop embarrassing themselves, United’s mentality shifted.
Because of their willingness to move forward and attack City, Pep Guardiola’s men started to show flaws. Liverpool had exposed them in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final at Anfield by relentlessly moving forward with the ball. If City are too busy thinking about where the next attack is coming from, they will struggle to dominate possession and therefore not be able to hurt their opposition with their illustrious forward line.
Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba started to make more offensive runs into the box, which allowed more space down the flanks for Young and Antonio Valencia to exploit. A few moments later, the French midfielder scored twice and the score was level. United went on to score the winning goal through Chris Smalling and came away with the three points and having spoilt City’s title celebrations. It was a match of football that provided immense entertainment and quality.
Etihad performance must become the norm
And yet, if the Red Devils are to strive for major honours next season, that showing at the Etihad Stadium cannot be a one-off. They need to consistently produce that level of fight, desire and willingness to break teams down, especially in matches against top six opposition. Mourinho might not be totally convinced by his squad, but this summer’s transfer window should allow him to find the missing pieces to his very complex puzzle.
Mourinho's best ever result as United Manager! #ManchesterDerby
⚽ 53' Pogba
⚽ 55' Pogba
⚽ 69' Smalling
The Red Devils are now unbeaten in their last 3 league visits to the Etihad! pic.twitter.com/2Ep8EWZE6j
— BetVictor (@BetVictor) April 7, 2018
The former Real Madrid manager has had a tendency this season to play conservative football. While, of course, that is not always such a terrible decision as it proved useful in their draw at Anfield earlier the season, but the Portuguese boss has underestimated his team as well and given too much respect to the opposition.
Mourinho has no excuses
In Alexis Sánchez’s debut in the Premier League for Man United, Mourinho’s men sat far too deep in their own half at Wembley against Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino’s side found it incredibly easy to pass through them and create chance after chance. United simply didn’t get into the game and were timid throughout. It was a shocking approach to a game against Spurs and one that simply cannot be repeated at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals.
United have a fantastic chance for a major trophy this season in England’s finest Cup competition, but they have to play attacking, expansive football at Wembley, and not sit back on the back foot and wait to be picked off. Because that’s what will happen. Tottenham have superb players, like Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembélé, who will eventually carve open your defence and thread that one ball into the area which Harry Kane operates in.
If Mourinho can bring all of his transfer targets to the club this summer, there simply cannot be any excuses made to why they are not playing on the front foot. Manchester United is a global super club and needs to starting throwing its weight around. Granted, Mourinho has had to build it up from a severe low, but United have shown what they can do against top teams, they just have to maintain the confidence levels and continue in that manner.
United have to entertain
Everybody knows that the Portuguese boss is going to leave the club at some point in the not so distant future, and so it will be important for Mourinho to leave behind a legacy. To have left the club in a better place in which he found it. The only way that is going to come to fruition is if they win trophies and titles. By playing in a conservative manner in highly pressurised matches, Mourinho’s chance of achieving such things is incredibly small.
United’s season is not one to be quickly written off. While they embarrassed themselves in the Champions League, their league form has improved hugely. The Red Devils should, however, be closer to Man City, and will be of the utmost importance to make sure they are next season.
Mourinho must trust his squad more and allow them to express themselves on a regular basis. They are a creative team and it remains the only way to close the gap on the true elite.