You can’t say that he didn’t see this coming. Manchester United, the most decorated team in English football is off to it’s worst start in 28 years. Someone had to take the blame, and in this case, it was very much deserved. The last straw was a brutal 3-1 beating at the hands of Liverpool this past Sunday. José Mourinho’s time at the helm of the Red Devils had to come to an end.
It Could Have Been Much Worse
It was actually more of a bale of straw that broke this camel’s back. Liverpool completely dominated this game. The Reds had almost 65% possession, took 36 shots with 11 on target against United’s pathetic six shots, only two of which threatened to awaken Liverpool’s keeper from his slumber.
Sadio Mané kicked off the scoring in the 24th minute, catching a delightful lofted through ball from Fabinho on his chest that he ushered past a flailing David De Gea. The goal capped off a furious opening assault that Jürgen Klopp described as “just about the best he has achieved at Liverpool.”
Someone Wake Up Allison
Alisson Becker is a world-class goalkeeper. There is no doubt that he has been a big part of stabilizing a Liverpool defense that has only conceded seven goals so far. But he has shown a lack of concentration at times. I guess it can get lonely back there when your opponent treats the midfield line like the Berlin Wall. The Reds keeper looked genuinely surprised when asked to collect a Jesse Lingard strike in the 33rd minute. The Brazilian muffed the save and Lingard cleaned up the leftovers to equalize.
It may have felt like a turning point, and for the 15 minutes or so before halftime, the Red Devils certainly looked more interested in competing, getting forward more and creating some chances. But it was merely a mirage, a facsimile of activity. In the second half, the Reds would show them what a real attack looked like.
Enter the Shaquiri
The second half opened with Mourinho’s men immediately on the back foot. United had everyone drop back on defense and Liverpool was fine with that. The big center backs pushed forward and began bombing shots from long range that United defenders could only deflect away, conceding 13 corner kicks over the course of the game. At the 70th minute, Klopp decided it was time… Shaquiri Time.
The Swiss super sub entered the match like a bull terrier in amongst the chickens. His combination of speed and agility just stunned the exhausted United defense. Three minutes after hitting the pitch he was right on the spot to pounce on a loose ball and ricochet it into the net off of Ashley Young. Seven minutes later he started an attack with a precision pass to Firmino that the world’s oldest-looking 27 year old fed right back to his boot for a powerful strike to seal the deal.
A Predictable Exit
José was sacked the next morning. United have turned to Ole Gunnar Solskjae as caretaker for the rest of this year with an eye towards finding a permanent skipper over the summer. A former forward with the club and a man with some experience managing at the top level, Solkjae will have the unenviable task of cleaning up his Portuguese predecessor’s mess and salvaging something from the season.
And what a mess it is. Mourinho seems to have been feuding with United’s brass since the day he arrived. This year that beef spilled into the locker room as he publicly dressed down his center backs, none of whom responded by transforming into Raphaël Varane. Nor did management seem willing to go get a Varane look alike for José to play with.
His messy handling of Paul Pogba has made all the headlines, and it looks as if the big expensive Frenchman will be ending his second stint at Old Trafford in January. But his conservative game plans have also stunted the development of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford whilst frittering away whatever Alexis Sanchez has left in the tank as he heads down the pitch at the wrong side of 30.
Plenty of Work to Do
Whoever takes over the Manchester United job next year will have a lot of nifty toys to play with and a pretty open checkbook to draw on. There’s no good reason why the Devils can’t bounce right back into the hunt. But they will have to find someone to reverse the ossified backwards thinking culture of the Mourinho era. They should maybe look across town to their Sky Blue neighbors to see how it’s done.
“From our Haus to Yours”