I was positive that Jose Mourinho was going to be fired. Manchester United had sleepwalked into the Theater of Dreams three weeks ago to host a woeful bottom dwelling Newcastle United squad. And for 70 minutes the Red Devils had played like a team that wanted their manager gone.
Seventy Minutes of Sloth
Newcastle United, a storied franchise fallen on hard times of late, entered week eight of the Premier League season with a mere two points, both 0-0 draws. They had been outscored 14 to six, with only those draws as clean sheets on their record. The Magpies seemed like the perfect tonic for a talented but struggling United squad. Then the whistle blew and it all went to hell.
Newcastle got their motor started early. In the seventh-minute Brazilian midfielder Kenedy, part of Chelsea’s “loan army”, collected a threaded pass on the break from Ayoze Perez and laced a shot from the edge of the box past a diving David De Gea. Watch the video, it’s just a simple break off of a throw-in. Perez is left unmarked and Kenedy just cuts past a scrambling Ashley Young to set up a perfect shot.
A mere three minutes later Yoshinori Muto recorded his first Premier League tally, with a whiplash-inducing turn from a JonJo Shelvey cross. The Old Trafford faithful were incensed and nine minutes later Mourinho lifted center back Eric Bailly, who knows where the doghouse is, and swapped in veteran attacking midfielder Juan Mata. Down two scores, the only way out was to attack.
Twenty Minutes of Wrath
A two-goal lead in the Premier League is usually a safe bet. And for the first 25 minutes of the second half, it looked bleak. But around the 60′ mark, there was a rugged run of play that seemed to swing the momentum to the Devils. Kenedy limped off the field after a hard foul from Pogba, then Mohamed Diamé returned the favor in a bad spot. Juan Mata curled a shot over the wall and into the net to drag the game back.
The exchange seemed to light a fire under United, and the end of the match was a furious run of attacking play, almost all of it in the Magpies end. Anthony Martial leveled the match at ’76 and Alexis Sanchez headed in his long-delayed first score of the year in the last breath of the game to break Newcastle’s hearts and save Jose’s job for another day.
The Blues are Still Blue
United came back from the international break to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Saturday. The Blues came in having yet to lose and with a raucous home crowd ready to razz their former skipper. And once again United fell behind after Rudiger slammed a header home from Willian’s 20′ corner kick. The Doomsday Clock started ticking towards midnight again. But this time was different. There were no panicky substitutions or hi-jinks with his backfield. Mourinho’s squad settled back, absorbed Chelsea’s offense and kept the score 1-0 at halftime.
Patience paid off, as Anthony Martial continued his hot streak, snatching a loose ball in front of goal and snapping it past new Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Then he did it again in the 73′ minute to take the lead. Unfortunately late-game substitute Ross Barkley powered home a ball that was ricocheting around the box in the waning seconds of injury time to salvage the point for Chelsea.
Can they keep it up?
On Tuesday United hosted Italian behemoth Juventus in the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo was held scoreless on his return to Manchester, but number seven did feed the ball to Paulo Dybala for the games only goal. While not a happy result, it could have been worse. And the last two games do give us some clues going forward.
United have had a “kick me” sign taped to their back ever since Brighton and Hove Albion kicked their butts in week 2. Between the drama about Pogba and the manager’s reluctance to accept the fact that none of his center backs were going to morph into Sergio Ramos obscures the reality that there is an incredible amount of talent on this roster. Putting it into the right position to win will help Jose keep his job. It looks like he may be finally adjusting. Smalling and Lindlhof have started the last two games at center back and Mourinho has conceded that they need help, keeping one of Pogba or Matic back more often. He has also stopped sending his fullbacks bombing up the field. Whilst it’s a more conservative look off the ball, on the ball, it is allowing Marcus Rashford and Martial room to create on the wings. Juan Mata seems to have secured a starting spot as a #10 behind Lukaku and he’s a good field general to keep the ball distributed.
Next up is a pesky looking Everton squad on Sunday. Let’s see if they can keep the momentum going.