Manchester United had a bad week, but they shouldn't be judged in isolation

Manchester United had a bad week, but they shouldn't be judged in isolation

A mixed but ultimately bad week for United shouldn't overshadow what has been a good 2017.

Craig Millar

Manchester United fans will probably remember better weeks. When they sit down to eat their turkey at Christmas, it may be a little harder to digest that it could have been.

United started the week with a hard-earned 2-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion. After looking very comfortable at half-time, they somehow contrived to be hanging on for victory at the end, but hang on they did.

The way the game went had a familiar ring to it, and the pattern would be repeated when the week closed out at Leicester City.

In between, United had a League Cup quarter-final at Bristol City. As holders, there was no motivation needed. An inept performance meant that the first trophy of the season was relinquished.

That was bad, but reflecting on one game in isolation is never a good thing. There have been worse moments and you don't have to go back so far to find them.

In the same competition at the start of Louis van Gaal's reign, Milton Keynes Dons provided the ultimate humiliation. There would have been little consolation in knowing that fact.

Some of the fringe players on display may have sealed their fate against Bristol, just as the majority who played against the Dons had done before. United just had to draw a line under that and move onto the King Power Stadium.

What transpired was quite incredible. Leicester is still a good team, this time last year they were still the reigning champions of England. They have not hit the heights of their remarkable season, but they still have a large core in their ranks.

United started the game well enough, but they found themselves a goal down and reacted well to go into the break level. Anthony Martial had a glorious chance to put United ahead, but he wasted it.

Juan Mata, who had restored parity but United in the driving seat with a nice free-kick but United went on to somehow mess the whole game up in spectacular fashion.

Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford missed incredible chances, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan dithered with only Kasper Schmeichel to beat, but they also wasted many great counter-attacking situations and gave back possession so cheaply.

The backdrop was that Leicester were down to ten men with around 20 minutes remaining after substitute Daniel Amartey was given two yellow cards, so to drop points was infuriating.

Tactics invite pressure

As much as the players were to blame for their complacency in front of goal, the tactics of Jose Mourinho could also be questioned. He allowed Leicester to attack United, and wanted to pick them off on the break.

Had Lingard scored his chance, the fight may have gone out of Leicester. Similarly, any of the other chances that followed would have also killed the game. Tactics wouldn't have been called into question.

Mourinho invites pressure, but when Chris Smalling injured his groin, United were unable to organise their defence to cope and the pressure told. Nobody should have been surprised.

Against Arsenal at home last year a dominant display was undone when the tactics were changed. Everton away was a similar story. Even Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final almost had a nightmare end as United clung on after being in total control.

However unpalatable these types of games are, it is not going to change whilst Mourinho is in charge. And Mourinho is not judged on these games. He is judged at the end of the year, and on how full the trophy cabinet is.

City need to implode

Last season was a successful one. This season hasn't finished, it is only halfway. Overhauling Manchester City is pretty much a forlorn hope, but nobody should give up. City would need to implode like Devon Loch and even then they would probably stumble over the line.

So that leaves the FA Cup and the Champions League to seriously aim at. The FA Cup is no gimme, and the Champions League has several teams that are better than United. 

For all the times Mourinho has lost to teams like Bristol City and suffered there are just as many where he has overcome the odds. 

Although City are being talked up very prematurely as one of the greatest sides in history, you can't doubt that Pep Guardiola had that in 2010 with Barcelona. Mourinho's Inter turned them over in the Champions League en route to capturing a treble.

In 2004 he produced another miracle with Porto, and although it is 2017 and those moments are in the past, his powers of attrition and the ability to get results cannot be underestimated.

United can be clinical

This United team can be resolute, has ability and flair. Against West Ham, Swansea and Everton the games were not totally different to the game at Leicester. On those occasions, United were clinical and blew the opposition away with late bursts.

They will do that again, but it is clear there is still work to be done and there is a possibility that they may finish the season empty-handed. A sobering thought, but the all-conquering City team won nothing in 2017. 

Mourinho's style is not for the purist. When he is winning trophies, then the way they are obtained is, in the main, irrelevant. This season will be the only one he can fail to deliver, but there is some way to go before then.