Manchester United lost 1-0 to Juventus on Tuesday night, yet they have already had worse results this season and likely have more ahead. The game won’t define their season. They will probably finish second in the group, just as they should do behind a superior team like Juventus, regardless of this defeat.
Yet what is disconcerting is how frequently the same pattern is playing out for United. While the results may be varied, the limp first half which sees them go behind is met with a more impassioned second half. Against Newcastle that saw them win, against Chelsea a draw, and now against Juve a loss.
This suggests United aren’t in a position to just let the first half pass them by. They’re not good enough to give away 45 minutes of football and hope to make up for it later on, especially when playing against good teams.
The game was tipped to be all about Cristiano Ronaldo, returning to Old Trafford with his second club since leaving United. In truth, the no.7 was fairly anonymous, with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny the only Juve player, other than the substitutes, who completed fewer passes than him.
What was interesting was that the fans, on both sides, barely acknowledged him. His name was cheered ahead of kick-off when the team sheets were read out, but there was no scarf twirling and songs of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ during the match, as there had been when he came back with Real Madrid. After the final whistle, there was some recognition, but nothing like the reaction in years gone by.
Yet his lack of influence on the pitch was matched by pretty much every player wearing red.
Victor Lindelof had one of his best games for the club, which doesn’t say an awful lot given his bar is fairly low, but he put in an excellent shift defensively. Paul Pogba looked fairly lively, especially in the second half, and saw more of the ball than any of his teammates. His effort off the woodwork was the closest United came to scoring.
Romelu Lukaku, whose primary role is to score goals, went yet another game without finding the back of the net. He is a shadow of the player for United that he is for the Belgian national team. The service to him isn’t the best, but then he rarely actively seeks out the ball either. His first touch and passing was poor against Juve, while he did nothing to threaten the goalkeeper.
The forward looks to have bulked up a lot over the summer and could probably do with spending less time on the weights. Being that much broader clearly isn’t having any positive impact on his game and any other manager would give him a rest. As it is, Jose Mourinho seems obsessed with playing the striker in every minute of every game, regardless of his performance.
All in all, it was a fairly flat evening for United, and this is becoming the norm for the supporters.
Accepting mediocrity was something the club never would have stood for once upon a time.
Now a 1-0 defeat at home is being accepted as ‘not an awful result’. How times have changed.
While Juve are up there with the best teams in Europe and having started their Serie A campaign brilliantly, it is poor for United to have 40 per cent possession at home against any side. To register less than half the number of shots as their opponents is an awful return. They deserved to lose and the fact that Juventus didn’t even have to play particularly well to get the win, is all the more damning.
However, maybe the fact that United have missed out on Champions League football on a couple of occasions in the six seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, means matches like this, even when lost, can’t be taken for granted. At least they’re playing Champions League football, which is a step up from some seasons under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
Yet if United are adopting an approach that values the taking part over winning, it says an awful lot about their current predicament.
It’s back to the drawing board for Mourinho and his team. They need to find a way to stop themselves from going behind and put the urgency they showed in the second half from the moment of kick-off.
United face Everton in the Premier League on Sunday 4pm, one of the nine teams currently above them in the table, and the manager needs to find a way to change their approach and mentality quickly.