Manchester United may well be through to the Europa League Final, but this was a game that reminded us once again just how far away they are from former glories.
They seem to me, a team playing to the system of a manager, yet not entirely comfortable with what they have been asked to do. It’s working as far as cup competitions are concerned where the result is all that matters, and a 1-1 draw was enough here to send them through to a European Final once more.
There must though, have been an easier ways of Manchester United managing this game.
The Europa League should be experiencing a resurgence around about now, from the quarter finals onwards the tournament is usually littered with big clubs, to win European silverware is an achievement and a historical occasion for any club, and the added carrot of Champions League qualification has raised the stakes even more.
Mourinho identified this early, and the man who once said he’d be ‘disappointed to win the Europa League’ prioritised last nights game at the expense of a shot at a premier league top 4 finish, bizarrely calling it ‘the most important in the clubs history’.
The fine margins within which United scraped through may justify his decisions, as you wonder if an understrength or more fatigued side would have escaped.
This was Celta Vigo. Not Seville, Villareal, or Atletico Bilbao. This was a team who currently sit in 12th place in La Liga, who despite a bright start to the season had lost their last 5 going into this one.
Having taken the lead on the night, against the run of play of this should have been comfortable, not relying on an extraordinary miss in the 6th minute of injury time that would have meant a humiliating exit.
The one historical plus is United are now one game from winning the only trophy they have never won and completing the set forever.
It’s hard to criticise the team and the man who is in the final, he will likely win the tournament playing this way and in doing so achieve silverware as well as his Champions League objective, but I can’t help but question why it needs be to done in this way.
Inviting a team on to you needlessly and dicing with death seems a risk hardly worth taking. The difference between United being 6th and 3rd in the premier league has been largely dropped points at home to mid table sides, Celta Vigo’s equivalent, and this has ultimately been an identical performance.
Mourinho mentioned history in the build up to the game, any United team in history would have put this to bed comfortably from the moment Fellaini gave them the lead with a first half goal.
No United players in history would have been happy tackling this game in the tactical manner employed yesterday, and I’m not sure the current crop are either. Manchester United as a club are a class above their opponents, the individual players a class above too against a side including Liverpool and Manchester City rejects amongst their ranks.
They approached the game like equals or even underdogs, seemingly overcome by fear. Often this season the forwards have been criticised for not scoring enough goals, but to leave them isolated in favour of a 6 man defence is contributing and even with the trophies surely Manchester United’s long serving fans won’t want much more of this.
United fans will not be satisfied with their self-inflicted fates left at the feet of John Guidetti in European Semi Finals at Old Trafford.
This wasn’t a glory night, not the enjoyable feeling of a European Semi Final win of times past, the elation of the wins against Shalke, Arsenal, Barcelona & Juventus.
This was flat, nervy, and even at the end the celebrations felt like there was an undertone of disappointment at the manner of the way the side had progressed.
Despite semi finals being only about result there was a lot of frustration about the performance which overcome the feeling of relief and that therefore the win was not as important as it might / should be.
Neutrals unimpressed. If this was even one of the biggest game in the clubs history the scenes at the end didn’t live up to expectations. That would demonstrate a disconnect of values between players, fans, and the manager and that is never a good thing at a football club.
Next season they will need to get closer together and Mourinho might well have to give it a bit.