Europa League Reflections – Manchester United and Manchester City get the defeats they deserve
Manchester United were terrible, and got what they deserved. Manchester City were cowardly, and got what they deserved.
* Manchester City and Manchester United both lost in the first legs, but the outlook is entirely different. While Manchester City have shown inexperience as their biggest obstacle, Manchester United have shown incompetence. Whether that’s injuries, complacency, or both, it doesn’t matter. If winning is a habit, then Manchester United need to start treating the Europa League as part of that. Manchester City will go through in their second leg, Manchester United won’t. AN
United are allowed to feel unlucky because of a free-kick which was given which often might not be – having a boot which falls off is not always punished, as it should be, extremely; to the full extent of the law – but they’d be wrong to. Outclassed by a Bilbao team that carry both a lot of energy and the level of organisation required to direct it in all the right places, United were made to look ridiculous tonight and deserved to lose. Sometimes it isn’t enough to save a lot of huff and puff until the last ten minutes: sometimes, by that time, you’re already three away goals down and going out to a better team.
The shallowness of that tactic has been on display all season. They’ve beaten two good teams all season: Manchester City and Tottenham, both at times when those teams were at their worst. City before they had their rhythm going in the community shield and again in the FA Cup with them down to ten men; and Tottenham on their early season run of losses and last week without Gareth Bale or Rafael Van der Vaart, their creative sparks. EDR
After another nothingy performance, chatter over Javier Hernandez’s second season syndrome might well get louder, but chatter always misses the point. There isn’t anything newly wrong with Hernandez, his weaknesses have just been magnified over time: his touch is poor and his strength and balance don’t do his ability to find space justice. Nothing says he can’t improve these things; it’s just that with Danny Wellbeck around, he’ll have to. EDR
Commenters on other websites can call me Mr. Negative all they like, but I think they all know in their hearts that Mr. Negative is Roberto Mancini. His away record – who even cares about the results – is one of cowardice. De Jong, Barry and Milner in midfield: it isn’t not liking football to call that miserable, it’s not liking football that leads a person to defend that shizzle. Enjoyably, cowardice got what it deserved tonight. EDR
United were terrible in midfield, as always. Let’s look at why that could possibly be the case. It’s not Scholes, who has been excellent since returning from retirement. Nor is it Cleverley – United have shone in the few games in which he’s played. Jones and Giggs have seen limited action in central midfield, where both have been solid and creative respectively. By the process of elimination – but also the process of watching games, rather than chalkboards – United’s woes are down to the supposedly-excellent Carrick. When he was bad, he was shocking, and now he’s apparently having his best season in a long time yet remains a hindrance to United, which is why it was upsetting to see him garner yet more unwarranted praise this evening. Chiefly, the problem is how much he slows down play – sometimes he causes United to see more of the ball, but they invariably do even less with it. When your strengths lie out wide and you lack true creativity, slowing down play is the last thing you want. And Michael Carrick is the last player United need right now. CH
Manchester United demonstrated, once again, their total inability to play the ball out of defence without Paul Scholes. It’s as astonishingly damning of United’s other midfielders as it is exemplary of Scholes’ continued brilliance, but United’s title hopes rest on the fitness of a frail, elderly retiree. They can do without almost anyone else, but they can’t do without him. CH
It’s not the frequently wretched performances that makes you question whether United – if they would see any of the money, of course – might be better off getting rid of Rooney, it’s the fact that he combines them with a status as the undroppable and unrestable superstar among their ranks. When you have a player of that status who is so inconsistent, and who is so bad when off form, it’s a big problem. CH