Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United: Another disappointing defeat for the Red Devils
Yesterday, Manchester United tumbled to yet another disappointing defeat up in the North East against Newcastle. It was a shock, but fair result. Newcastle defended diligently and quite clearly, deserved the win.
United, on the other hand, were sloppy, lacklustre, and produced another uninspiring performance away from home. In all fairness, though, they did create a number of good chances, but as on many occasions this season, their finishing proved to be their undoing.
Perhaps the result should not come as a surprise given Manchester United's display against Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks ago, where United were outclassed by their North London opponents, who once went 2-0 up, never looked likely to surrender their lead.
It was a similar story against Newcastle on Sunday. As soon as the Magpies took the lead through an opportunist goal from Matt Ritchie, they never looked like giving up that lead.
Up until that point, Manchester United had been on top, with Anthony Martial wasting a golden one-one opportunity and Alexis Sanchez incredibly missing the target after rounding up debutant keeper Martin Dubravka.
The way Sanchez spurned that opportunity seemed to epitomise how United played for most of the match: slow, ponderous and lacking confidence. After Newcastle took the lead, Martial again had two chances to get the equaliser, both in quick succession, but Newcastle cleared the danger each time.
In truth, Newcastle could have won by an even greater margin, with De Gea making a couple of world-class saves. Further, they should have had a penalty awarded for a trip on Dwight Gayle by Chris Smalling.
Although United shaded the stats, having more possession and shots on target than the hosts, that only tells half the story. Prior to this game, Newcastle had not won at home in the league since October and had been beaten at St James' Park by mid-table sides such as Everton and Leicester City.
Even when one legislates for rare shock results, this is a game that Manchester United should have won. However, this result was almost to be expected, given similar embarrassing defeats this season against Bristol City, Basel and Huddersfield Town.
After being restored to the starting line-up by Mourinho, Paul Pogba was his usual frustrating self and never really got into the game. He almost looked on the verge of tears when he was substituted. David De Gea and the rest of the defence played well, but the problem areas for United were, once again, in midfield and attack.
Paul Pogba looks uncomfortable playing in a midfield role which requires defensive responsibility, yet Mourinho persists in trying to force him into a position which clearly does not suit him.
Several pundits (such as Old Trafford legend Gary Neville) have commented that Pogba looks at his best when given license to roam forward in a midfield three, with Nemanja Matic and perhaps Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera shouldering defensive responsibilities.
Up front, Martial looked disinterested, and one suspects that he and Mourinho may be heading for a falling out, given Mourinho's rather public criticism of Pogba. Romelu Lukaku played well, but once again, received no service until Juan Mata and Michael Carrick (who is worryingly still the creative hub of the team at 36) came on for the last 15 minutes.
Alexis Sanchez buzzed with intent, while Jesse Lingard was disappointingly anonymous.
Moving forward, Mourinho must fix what has been a common problem for him in his time in charge of Manchester United: they create loads of chances but lack that killer instinct in the final third. It was a problem last season, and seems to have hung around this season as well.
As a United fan, I only have to think back to the recent 2-2 draw against Leicester City as an example of this. At 2-1 up against 10 men, Jesse Lingard missed an open goal and Marcus Rashford couldn't finish a one-one with the keeper. United then farcically ended up throwing 2 points away by conceding an equaliser with the last kick of the game.
Mourinho has undoubtedly improved Manchester United. The Red Devils have the best defence in the league, and currently sit 2nd in the table, although Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur seem to be gaining on them.
However, particularly in attack, they seem to be under-performing: not taking their chances and lacking a certain ruthlessness in the final third. However, the signs for United are still promising.
They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world and a solid defence. If Mourinho can tinker his tactics to set Pogba free and get the best out of him, as well as sign a truly world-class centre-forward in the summer, we can expect further improvement from them next season.