There are some football grounds that I’ve vowed never to set foot in for various reasons, the one time I traveled to Elland Road for example I was spat at, racially abused and called a Munich bastard within 23 seconds of getting off the coach, don’t worry I did post a really bad review on trip advisor, that’ll teach them.
Another ground I’m loathe to return to, but for different reasons is Stamford Bridge, I hate to use the word “jinx” but it’s probably best for United if I never return to Chelsea as the one season I finally made the trip there -twice- we were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions, the loss in the League Cup being one that still burns to this day. The young side Sir Alex Ferguson put out was just seconds away from a confidence boosting, hard-fought win when a certain Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha decided not to run the ball into the corner, instead losing it needlessly for Chelsea to win a penalty they then converted in the dying moments, taking the game into extra time where there multi million pound side went on be victorious.
Nani losing the ball late on, was typical Nani, but it wasn’t typical Ferguson who made no bones about who was to blame for a needless loss, singling out the player’s mistake in his post-match interview. It’s not just Nani who forgot the golden rule of hanging on to a lead in the closing stages of the game at Stamford Bridge, Memphis Depay – remember him- did something similar in the league a few seasons back, it’s frustrating and avoidable and there’s little doubt Jose Mourinho will be reminding his team about that this morning.
Yesterday’s draw against Leicester was avoidable in so many ways it’s almost difficult to know where to start, a glut of missed chances, shambolic ‘organisation’ in defence when Chris Smalling was injured and losing possession in the last 30 seconds when all we had to do was run the clock down, the latter being particularly annoying as with the home side down to ten men when Marcus Rashford sprinted down the wing late on, the Foxes would have been dead and buried had the Reds simply took it into the corner.
There seemed to be a complete lack of cohesion on the pitch among the United players late on, some seemingly determined to go for a late, late third, others more concerned with keeping the ball, while once Smalling got injured the defence looked about as well organised as Lionel Messi’s tax returns.
It was pretty basic stuff and something you’d think a manager as regimented as Jose Mourinho would have either been on top of or expected his players to understand, instead of leadership either on or off the pitch there was simply an air of dithering and confusion which gifted the home side an equaliser.
All this would have been academic had any one of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard or Marcus Rashford managed to bag a third, Martial missing something of a sitter, Lingard being a tad unlucky when he struck the post and Rashford being denied a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Kasper Schmeichel.
Among many United fans, criticising the aforementioned Red trio is akin to urinating on the United Trinity statue, but there’s a real cause for concern that perhaps they’re not performing to the level their skills are capable of due to the manager’s laissez faire attitude towards coaching attackers.
One of the many arguments put forward by City fans is that Pep Guardiola hasn’t just bought his record-breaking squad he’s coached it too, he’s getting the best out of his players, including some who were already at the club because he’s working with them individually to improve their game. Guardiola started out as a coach at Barcelona’s B team working with younger players and seems to revel in that aspect of being a manager. Initially I’ve always thought Guardiola’s reputation was a little overrated when it came to ‘coaching’ the younger players, take Raheem Sterling for example who’s enjoying an impressive season under the City boss. Sterling is 23 and should be ‘kicking on’ now, after all he wasn’t signed for almost £50 million two years ago because his career was winding down, the potential was there, he’d shown it at Liverpool, almost helping them to a title win. What’s happened at City is Sterling like some of his team mates, is getting older, improving naturally but also getting the coaching which by his own admission is helping him attain heights his talents deserve.
If you claim Rashford or Martial needed coaching, most Reds would scream at you about how young and gifted they are, how lucky we are to have them and how you’re obviously a spoilt brat who doesn’t remember the pre-Ferguson era and should f*ck off and support City, before killing yourself. However is it really that insane to suggest that both could benefit from a bit of guidance from a manager who when he arrived at Old Trafford went to great lengths to remind everyone how he gave youth a chance and had a good reputation of working with younger players – even though most of that reputation may have existed only in his head.
Rashford is one of the best young players I’ve ever seen, ditto Martial but it’s not slanderous to suggest at times they need to get their heads up or go for the easier option when attacking, or that Romelu Lukaku, who was excellent yesterday, could have had a few more goals if some of his team mates had chosen to play him in when he was clean through, apart from in the dying moments of course.
Like Lukaku, Lingard was one of our better players at the King Power and unfortunate not to score and of all the United players in the squad he’s probably worked harder and overcome more doubters than anyone else to get to where he is, but again is it sacrilege to wonder whether he could reach even greater heights if Mourinho or his staff decided to work on the aspects of his game which can sometimes let him down?
Many people reading this will be thinking “the likes of Rashford and Martial are the least of our worries, let’s not start picking on them” and I get that, but it’s not “picking on them” to say they’ve the ability to become among the best players on the planet, that ability just needs harnessing in the right way and developing so that we can hopefully see the sort of progress we saw from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, rather than someone like Nani who never quite attained the heights he should have, at least not consistently enough.
But in the longer term, getting the best out of our younger players, working with them rather than just allowing them to ‘get on with it’ could see next season could truly become one to remember, although if Leeds United get promoted, you can take my name out of the away ballot.