Manchester United fans breathed a huge sigh of relief on Saturday evening after their team overturned a 2-0 deficit to win the game 3-2 against Newcastle.
The first half showing was about as bad as it’s been under Jose Mourinho, with the players not bothering to close down, or attempt basic defending, as the visitors scored two goals in the opening 10 minutes.
There was little to no reaction from the players, seemingly in shock. On the back of reports claiming the club was ready to sack Mourinho, maybe their predicament shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Were the players going to perform for a dead man walking?
Within minutes of conceding the second goal, Mourinho hooked defender Eric Bailly and replaced him with the creative Juan Mata, but this did little to quieten the travelling Newcastle fans, who could hardly believe that their first win of the season was going to be at Old Trafford:
Who the f**k are Man United?” they gleefully chanted.
The Geordies had arrived earlier that day by the coach-full, goading supporters outside the ground, and singing about Mourinho getting sacked early in to the game. Yet the reality is they are in a similar situation to United, owned by people who know nothing about football and who make poor decisions.
Both United and Newcastle had a net spend of £20 million this summer, which says more about the former than it does the latter, but illustrates perfectly why both sets of fans are unimpressed with the owners.
United fans can be relieved that the players they have were good enough to beat Newcastle but even with the euphoric ending, scoring three goals in the final 20 minutes, there are still plenty of doubts surrounding the club.
Going in to the international break with a win under their belts was important, with more difficult fixtures against Chelsea and Juventus on the horizon, but only the most optimistic of fans could believe Saturday’s result will see the club turn a corner.
Stamford Bridge is a ground where United have struggled for years, going back well in to the Sir Alex Ferguson era, and there’s little to suggest it will be any different this season against Mourinho’s old club.
Over the last 16 years in the league, United have won just once away to Chelsea, and that was when the opposition were reduced to nine men. They’ve lost 10 of the remaining 15 outings there. Their record in west London is atrocious.
In Mourinho’s first return to his former club with United, where the home crowd held up signs calling their most successful ever manager ‘Judas’ after he took up the United job following his second sacking by Chelsea, he saw his team thrashed 4-0. Last year it was a more respectable, narrow, 1-0 defeat, although United did little to deserve anything from the game, managing just two shots on target over the 90 minutes.
Mourinho will take on Juve at Old Trafford though, keen to maintain United’s unbeaten status in the competition. They will have to keep out Cristiano Ronaldo to do this. When you consider how many goals their defence has conceded against the likes of Derby, West Ham and Brighton, the task of preventing Mario Mandzukic, Ronaldo and Co. from scoring is going to be difficult.
But those worries are for a different day. In what has been a largely depressing season to date, United fans can bask in the excitement of their come back against Newcastle for a bit longer. From Mata’s exquisite free-kick, to Anthony Martial’s equaliser and Alexis Sanchez’s winner, United needed their talented forwards to show up, and that’s exactly what they did.
If the two goals conceded illustrated why Mourinho was desperate to strengthen his defence in the summer, a plan that Woodward stood in the way of, the three goals United pulled back showed what skillful players they have going forward. But it’s Mourinho’s job to bring the best out of them more consistently than he has done so far this campaign.
The Portuguese revealed after the game that half-time was spent with the players and manager “opening their hearts” and discussing how they must give everything to get themselves back in to the game.
The half-time team talk was very strong and it was needed and gave us a kick up the a***, Luke Shaw said after the win.
“The way we were much better in the second much quicker and more direct and more like the United we saw in the old days and we need to do that more and we will hopefully and we look forward to our next games.”
There’s still a long way to go and a seemingly endless list of issues that United need to address, but Saturday saw a mentality in the players that has been missing on too many occasions this season. Supporters will hope they can cling on to this after the international break.