Follow Jason: @jsnfrmn
1. Lukaku not good enough
On form, there are a few things to like about Lukaku, his strength and pace make him unplayable on his day, he still has major flaws when in form such as his control and link up play. Without service he offers very little, we need more than someone who relies on getting service if we’re to compete with teams like Juventus. Currently, he is playing terribly yet it seems he is undroppable, he is one of very few players in the squad that has not been dropped by Mourinho and that’s probably because the alternatives; Martial, Rashford and Sanchez don’t offer the physical presence that Mourinho likes his strikers to possess. Since joining in the summer of 2017, he has hardly missed a game and there’s an argument to be made that one of the games he did miss, the cup final, we missed him as Mourinho’s gameplan went out the window with him and Fellaini both injured which says a lot about Mourinho’s tactics and approach to games. Mourinho’s feeling that he has no alternative is possibly part of the current problem, he has played so much for club and country in the last 12 months that he needs a rest. That is only part of the problem though whether he’s in form or off form, we won’t reach the top level with him as striker, he simply doesn’t offer enough to be first choice.
2. Promising performance from Lindelof
On a disappointing night, one positive I can think of was how Lindelof performed. Since arriving at the club, the Swede has looked fragile to say the least, there were signs of improvement later on last season and he’s started this season OK too but this was his best performance for the club and looked more like the player he was described to be by those that had seen him when he was signed. He came with the nickname ‘The Iceman’ due to his calmness but until Tuesday night that cool head was not noticeable, he looked vulnerable and easily panicked. There seems to be a decent partnership developing between him and Smalling, nothing on the level of the great partnerships of yesteryear but better than what we’ve seen in recent years. On his second return to Old Trafford since leaving in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo was kept relatively quiet and the defence can take something from that. Having been mostly disappointing since arriving at the club, let’s hope this is the start of better performances from him.
3. Signings needed but not the solution
The lack of investment in the summer was a major talking point post-World Cup with Mourinho’s targets deemed not good enough by the banker running the club and evidence of this has been on show for most of the season with Fred and Dalot appearing briefly so far and that is understandable, one has come from an inferior league and needs time to adjust, the other a young player with limited first team experience and has been struggling with injuries. Looking at the lineups before the game tonight you could see that there was a gulf in class. One of the best defensive partnerships around, very good full backs, a very good midfield with Ronaldo and Dybala in attack. We simply don’t have that. Our other signing in 2018, Alexis Sanchez, was meant to be that, he arrived at the club with many expecting him to add the goals that the younger players could not produce on a regular basis, he scored 30 in his last full season for Arsenal, he hasn’t done that or even managed to do more than Martial or Rashford, and just as we can point to those two and our other talented attackers struggling, it’s likely to be down to Mourinho’s stifling tactics rather than them not being good enough. I’m not here to blame one person/party though, from the board to Mourinho to the players, none have been good enough in 2018 and changes need to be made in the structure of the football operations of the club because right now all three are working against each other.
4. Thought of De Gea leaving is frightening
Since the summer there has been talk that De Gea might again be looking to leave the club, something you can’t really blame him for thinking at this moment in time, the club is struggling on and off the pitch and this season have looked further away from being a top team than at any point since Fergie’s retirement and it’s understandable that he’d want to play for a side where the chances of winning major trophies look more likely. Against Juventus, he made a number of excellent saves, particularly the one to deny Ronaldo’s shot from outside the box which looked destined for the top corner. These types of saves have seen him win the club’s player of the year award a record number of four times which for a goalkeeper is incredible but says a lot about how the team has been playing. Despite his heroics of the past five years for club, he has not been immune from criticism while on international duty as he was hammered by Spanish fans and media for their World Cup failings and critics have started to appear at club level now with De Gea already having conceded three goals on four occasions for club this season which has been unheard of in previous seasons. Does the amount of goals conceded mean he’s in decline? No he’s just playing behind a team that is not performing anywhere near the sum of its parts. I think he feels at home at United though and at present it’s hard to see what club really needs him as much as United and would be willing to pay a goalkeeper what United are. The club will highly likely activate the option to extend his contract for another season after this but they won’t want to let him go for free the following summer so getting him to sign a new contract before the end of the season is vital otherwise we will likely lose him at the end of the season.
5. The Kids are United
There was very little else I learnt from the game itself but I thought I’d try to end this with some sort of positivity from the day. Although unused, in fact no substitutions were made during the first team game with Mourinho citing the lack of Fellaini as the reason (sigh!) for that but let’s not go there, it was however pleasing to see Tahith Chong named on the bench and given a taste of what it’s like to be with the first team and on a big European night. It would have been nice to see him get on, the closest he got was when he was told to warm up during which he received some applause from the crowd. Chong is just one of a number of promising youngsters currently coming through the club’s youth teams and was one of those taken on the summer’s pre-season tour. He would usually have been playing with the Under 19s earlier in the day where his fellow talented team mates beat Juventus’ under 19s 4-1 with Juventus resorting to kicking United players towards the end of the game as United dominated. A few years ago, the club’s academy was in a similar place to where the first team currently is, everything was a mess both on and off the field, a major overhaul then occurred with Nicky Butt overseeing things and the turnaround has been relatively quick with a number of this group of players looking to have the potential to go on to play for the first team and if ever another ‘Class of 92’ miracle was needed it’s now but they need someone to put faith in them just like Under 19’s manager Nicky Butt was all those years ago.