How Manchester United can rebuild after Champions League exit
The doom and gloom has been firmly set on the red side of Manchester.
Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League on Tuesday night after a humiliating 2-0 defeat to Sevilla. Jose Mourinho's men never looked like imposing themselves on the game and two quick-fire goals from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder were enough to send Vincenzo Montella’s side through to the quarter-finals.
Mourinho now finds himself at a crossroads in his Manchester United reign, with his negative tactics coming in for huge criticism. With no possibility of winning the Premier League and having had his European dreams dashed for another year, what next for Mourinho's United?
The significance of United's FA Cup clash with Brighton this weekend has definitely intensified. It is now a must-win game for Mourinho and 90 minutes that may define their season.
A trophy and a second place finish would be enough to keep United fans at bay but many would argue that is not enough. They are 16 points behind the league leaders Manchester City and, considering the gulf in class between the neighbours this season, Mourinho and Ed Woodward have an unenviable task in trying to bridge the gap in the summer transfer window.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) March 14, 2018
Criticism of Mourinho following United's defeat to Sevilla is well-placed. His negative tactics have been hit and miss for United this season. A 2-1 win over Liverpool will tell you that his tactics aren't as outdated as his critics would suggest but he has been exposed on the big stage by a Sevilla team who have conceded five goals against Real Betis, Eibar, Spartak Moscow, Atletico and Real Madrid this season.
Surely such a statistic should have been enough incentive for Mourinho to approach the game in a positive manner? Alas, he thought otherwise and it is this stubbornness that has stunted United's progress.
United are a club of rich history and have, down the years, been synonymous with vibrant, attacking football. Alex Ferguson left this legacy but the three managers who have come after him are doing their very best to damage it.
From a United perspective, the performances of late do simply not live up to their high standards. Jesse Lingard has been a real bright spark this season but his upturn in fortunes has not been enough to single-handedly transform the landscape at Old Trafford.
It's his fault https://t.co/wx9oTDvcji
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) March 14, 2018
Alexis Sanchez needs to be dropped from this United team. He touched the ball 62 times against Sevilla, losing it 20 times. His presence in the team meant Marcus Rashford, who had shone so brightly out on the left wing against Liverpool, was pushed out right, where he was less effective.
There is definitely a lot of deadwood that needs to be cleared out too. Marouane Fellaini looks set to leave when his contract expires in the summer while Michael Carrick has confirmed that this season is his last. Fred, the Shakhtar midfielder, has been heavily linked this week and someone like him would be an upgrade to the options currently available to Mourinho.
Mourinho will presumably stay in charge so he needs players that complement his style and more than the ones who are there at the moment. Paul Pogba has not been the commanding midfield presence we knew at Juventus and it seems that the Frenchman's poor performances of late have strained his relationship with his manager.
Meanwhile, in defence, Chris Smalling still looks like the weak-link. Victor Lindelof is still adapting and it's become abundantly clear that Eric Bailly, United's best defender, needs a strong partner.
One man who can hold his head high is Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has been criticised at times this season but, in the last few games, his link-up play has improved dramatically – and he was crucial in the victory against Liverpool.
Lukaku was forced to come deep for the ball on numerous occasions against Sevilla which does not suit his style of play at all. He is a penalty box striker and, with United sitting so deep against their Spanish opponents, the former Everton man's threat was largely neutralised.
Lukaku's return to form is encouraging but he needs a player who can support him better. Mourinho's deployment of Pogba in a deeper position means his partnership with Lukaku has only gone so far. United were heavily linked with Mesut Ozil before he signed a new deal at Arsenal and one feels it is a player of the German's creativity and craft that is required in order to bring out the best in Lukaku.
Of course, some of the doom and gloom that has set around Old Trafford will be lifted if they can progress in the FA Cup. While another extensive recruitment drive is expected in the summer, the main priority is to get things back on track against Brighton. Failure to do so will only sharpen the knives of Mourinho's detractors.