Jose Mourinho and Manchester United missing an intensity and spark for Europa League
Feyenoord 1 Manchester United 0
Jose Mourinho’s absence from the Europa League lasted so long that even the name of the competition changed in his absence. So did much else.
His last game in the Uefa Cup, as it was previously known, brought drama, glory and a first continental trophy as his Porto side beat Celtic in the 2003 final. Thirteen years later, his belated return came in altogether less enjoyable fashion. Manchester United delivered an undistinguished performance as Feyenoord beat them 1-0.
After Mourinho made a flying start, this has been a week of defeats and disappointment. First Manchester City and now Feyenoord have overcome them and while the Portuguese is Louis van Gaal’s antithesis in many respects, he extended an unwanted run. United have now lost their last four away games in Europe. They should still qualify from their pool, but they have less margin for error.
Mourinho’s feelings about the Europa League are ambivalent, both wanting to win it while conceding it could affect United’s chances of regaining the Premier League crown, and perhaps they were reflected in the display. His side were functional but lacked the intensity and spark that often conveys a genuine enthusiasm.
And one defensive lapse, coupled with one officiating error, cost them when Nicolai Jorgensen picked out Tonny Vilhena with his low cross and the midfielder placed his shot beyond David de Gea. Mourinho, who was unhappy that United were not awarded a penalty on Saturday, could have further grounds for grievance with referees. Jorgensen was half a yard offside.
But he played with a determination that United could only envy. Mourinho had made eight changes, with the prioritisation of the Premier League was evident from a glance at the teamsheet. He can argue he gave his squad players chances. Too few took them, with Marcos Rojo again looking a weak link at left-back.
Without the rested Wayne Rooney, Mourinho switched to 4-3-3, the formation many believe he ought to deploy, not least because it affords Paul Pogba a freer role with the security of a holding midfielder behind him. That case was not proved, with Pogba scarcely looking like the costliest footballer in history although at least the Frenchman offered some drive in the second half.
In attack, Marcus Rashford made a first start for Mourinho. Isolated too often, he had fewer opportunities to impress than in his cameos in the previous two games. The probability is that he will revert to the role of impact substitute at Watford on Sunday. Anthony Martial had United’s only notable effort before the break, angling a crisp half-volley wide but, like Rashford, he was removed as Mourinho looked for more penetration.
His dissatisfaction seemed apparent when he made a triple substitution for the final half-hour, introducing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Memphis Depay and Ashley Young. Nevertheless, it felt telling that the latter pair had not been included in a much weakened starting 11.
Depay tried a couple of optimistic shots but with United trailing, it felt a sign of desperation that Chris Smalling was thrust up front alongside Ibrahimovic in the closing stages. Despite the Swede’s forceful free kick, it did not yield an equaliser.
And if Feyenoord had seemed to be playing for the draw, they earned their win. They were unafraid to be physical and used the height of the Dane Jorgensen in attack. Steven Berghuis posed a threat on the right. When the on-loan Watford winger was surprisingly substituted, his replacement, Bilal Basacikoglu, drilled a shot narrowly wide.
Before then, the hosts’ best chance probably fell to Jens Toornstra, who blazed over. But Vilhena showed a cooler head in front of goal and Feyenoord claimed a famous win.
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Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM