By Harry Ogilvie
- Rooney converts first-half stoppage time penalty
- Mata returns to squad but Shaw and Bailly suffer injuries
An injury riddled United side faced relegation strugglers, Swansea City at home after an anti-climatic Manchester Derby on Thursday night, which finished 0-0.
If United defeated the Welsh side, they could jump to third with Liverpool playing on Monday and City kicking off as the final whistle blew at Old Trafford.
However, this was a more complex task than you would normally expect as United were without several key players including record signing, Paul Pogba and top scorer with 28 goals, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But arguably the biggest misses are centre backs Jones, Rojo and Smalling who are all sideline due to injury. This left United with one fit recognised and first choice centre back, Eric Bailly.
The Ivorian who impressed on Thursday night against City partnered by makeshift centre back, Daley Blind. Luke Shaw returned at left back with Young as the other full back.
United Slow Out Of The Blocks
United started extremely slowly and were sluggish for the majority of the first half. Shaw coming off injured only added to United’s woes for the most part of the first-half.
There was no real tempo to United’s game and Swansea dominated the midfield having 68% possession at one point in the first half.
There was little for United to celebrate up until injury time when Rashford was brought down by Fabianski and United were awarded a rather controversial penalty.
After watching the replays, it was clear Rashford made the most of the little contact from Fabianski when trying to avoid touching the young Englishman.
Thankfully, long time talisman, Rooney stepped up to convert the penalty for his second goal in his last two premier league appearances. But United fans like myself couldn’t care less as United were winning and finally given a stroke of much needed luck.
Despite leading at the break, United were simply not good enough and probably didn’t even deserve to be ahead. Swansea dominated for large parts of the first half and passed with clear purpose and intent.
Could United Improve After Half-Time?
The second half was largely the same, United stopped Swansea playing as much but failed to improve their attacking side of their game.
There was the occasional threatening attack but little clear cut chances.
Previously, United’s problem has been failing to convert chances despite creating plenty.
However, today they struggled to create chance and lacked imagination. United clearly missed Pogba, his creativity and passing was needed today.
15 minutes into the second half, United’s injury worries worsened when Eric Bailly went down after he appeared to kick the heal of Llorente in attempt to win the ball.
He was eventually subbed with Matteo Darmian replacing him. This left united with no recognised centre backs on the pitch.
Swansea also continued to look dangerous and eventually won a free kick on the edge of the box. This led to confusion amongst United players as Sigurdsson, a well known set piece specialist stepped up to take it.
Before he took the free kick though, it appeared Herrera was going to go on the post behind the wall to prevent him from being able to put the ball there.
But De Gea waved him away and told him to join the wall. And of course, the Icelandic Swansea midfielder put the free kick right where Herrera was previously standing.
This summed up United on what was a fairly abysmal performance.
The best performer on the pitch for me from a United point of view, had to be Anthony Martial.
The speedy, young Frenchman was constantly running at Kyle Naughton, making him twist and turn throughout the game.
He was United’s main attacking focal point for the majority of the game but more specifically, in the first half. Despite some superb runs and dribbles, there were quite a few occasions where he couldn’t quite find the end product.
To be fair to Martial, this was at times, down to Swansea’s stubborn defending.
Another player who I feel deserves a mention is Matteo Darmian, who’s form recently has been solid. When Bailly hobbled off injured, he was the man chosen by Mourinho to replace him.
When called upon, he did everything required, whether that be putting in tackles, winning headers or distributing the ball after winning it.
He also deserves praise for his versatility and willingness to play anywhere across the backline when Mourinho needs him. The former Torino player has played left back, right back, left centre back in a three and now centre back in a two.
The Wayne Rooney Debate
This is a man who has been at the heart of debates amongst United fans throughout this season but today really does highlight both the positives and negatives about having him in the side.
Firstly, we seen the positive side of his game as despite being largely anonymous in the first half (along with the rest of the United midfield), he still managed to step up and show his confidence and experience when he converted the penalty after his side were under much pressure throughout the half.
But then came the negative side of his game. His age and lack of pace began to slow United’s play down and he was contributing very little in the second half.
Then to top it all off, he committed a lazy foul on the edge of the box which led to Sigurdsson putting the resulting free kick in the top corner.
Is He Finished?
This caused debate to break out on Twitter with many United fans saying he’s ‘finished’ and now believe it is time to ‘let him go’.
However, in my opinion I still believe he can contribute to the side this season , perhaps not as a first choice player but his experience and guidance for younger players will benefit the dressing room. And despite what many reds think, he can still pop up with the occasional moment of magic like his free kick at Stoke.
Having said that, I believe when the transfer window comes around in June, I would not be surprised to see him go as it is obvious he is no longer first choice and summer reinforcements will probably send him even further down the pecking order.
However, whether he stays or goes, there is no question that he should go down as a Manchester United legend considering he is our record goal scorer and has provided us with many great memories.
The Manager’s View
Mourinho clearly believes fatigue played apart, he said “We lost players and we lost two points. It isn’t that we looked tired, we are tired.” The boss is right.
There were clear signs of fatigue throughout the team and that has contributed, along with other factors to our failure to beat a struggling Swansea side.
When asked about Jones and Smalling, he said “I prefer not to speak, I’d like to focus on the brave guy Mata, who did his best to come back. I’m grateful.”
This is clearly Mourinho voicing his frustrations regarding injuries and possibly even taking a sly dig at the two centre backs and their absence from the squad.
The Gaffer was then asked about Shaw, he said “I think Luke Shaw must have a big injury because if you leave the pitch after 10 minutes, it must be an important injury.”
Mourinho was clearly in no mood to show sympathy for the lad after criticising his attitude previously.
He continued to comment on injuries when he said “at the moment, we can walk from the bed to the toilet and break a leg.”
This again highlights his clear frustration at the never ending list of injuries, which seems to constantly be getting added to.
For United, it was same old, same old.
Another opportunity to break into the top four (even if it was potentially only temporary), another opportunity bottled.
This caused mass outrage and anger from United fans all over social media. Looking at the league table and United’s remaining fixtures, it’s hard to imagine the great Manchester United finishing top four.
United still have to face Arsenal away which many would argue is winnable, along with Spurs away in their final home game at White Hart Lane, Southampton away which has never been an easy place to go for United and probably worst of all, Crystal Palace at home.
On the other hand, even if United don’t finish in the Champions League places, there is still a chance we can win the Europa League.
Should Mata and Pogba return to full fitness right on schedule, there is no reason why United cannot beat Celta Vigo and reach Stockholm.
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