Jose Mourinho wanted this Champions League match to be perceived as ‘crucial’ and deemed a victory, and also a performance featuring heart and fight, mandatory. No second chances, this was the game to be won. Against an ordinary Young Boys of Bern team, who sit top of the Swiss league but bottom of this particular group, Manchester United left it late to get the win that Mourinho demanded.
Much of Old Trafford had left when Marouane Fellaini spun in the area in the 91st minute, bringing the ball down well and finishing into the bottom corner of the Young Boys goal. Given their dominance and superiority it was deserved, in this competition more than any other, results are what matter and United got a valuable one here.
It was not a must win, but the United manager wanted it to be perceived in that manner. The pressure that Mourinho had applied on his players may be considered a reason as to why his side play with fear, their reticence in front of goal was apparent until Fellaini broke the deadlock and scored the first goal at home in United’s Champions League run this season.
United’s issues are in front of goal
With Paul Pogba only worthy of a place amongst the substitutes, United’s midfield three of Fred, Nemanja Matic and Fellaini needed to be more creative than their names on the teamsheet suggested. Playing such a three in midfield against a side that were never going to exert vast numbers further up the pitch was questionable.
As time was to show, United’s creativity would be rather direct from back to front, but the issue lay with the finishing rather than the creation. At times on Saturday against Crystal Palace, it seemed that United – and Palace for that matter – could have played all day and still not registered a goal, up against Young Boys that was not a possibility. Increasingly, however, it became a probability.
Mourinho’s mantra at United, and in football in general, is to minimise the mistakes that his side make. In defence that works fine, as less individual errors naturally leads to less goals conceded, but that is not where United’s issues lay. Not wanting individual mistakes in an attacking sense strikes fear into any forward.
United at the moment look like a side that have a fear of making mistakes in attacking situations, removal from the team may follow and consequently that impacts the confidence and willingness to take risks in the final third. United’s lack of goalscoring in home European matches only highlights the point.
United dominant but lack cutting edge
United made a promising start; quick, incisive but ultimately not accurate enough to fashion any clear goalscoring chances. Luke Shaw threaded a ball towards Jesse Lingard who applied the slightest touch onto Marcus Rashford, but when one-on-one with David Von Ballmoos, the United striker lifted his shot over the crossbar. It seemed like the ball was a hot coal, such was the one-touch nature that United’s players were applying to it.
Fred engineered space on the edge of the Young Boys area but his shot was always rising and sailed over the crossbar. Albeit their play was not blistering, it was encouraging. Young Boys, on the other hand, could only manage to win a solitary corner in the first 20 minutes. They were compact, if not deep, and struggled to get a touch.
Rashford was the hosts’ lone striker, with Romelu Lukaku sat on the substitutes bench, and it was he who had the majority of his sides first half chances; he shot straight at the goalkeeper following more quick one-touch play and steered a strike just wide of the left post after being fed by a simple Chris Smalling through ball.
But as the half developed, the atmosphere got noticeably tetchier. For a period, the referee’s whistle seemed to be blown whenever United made their way into the Young Boys area and whenever Felix Brych allowed play on, the hosts’ decision making let them down.
Lack of United ideas become apparent
The quick-fire start had given way to more sluggishness and lethargy. The second half continued in similar fashion and when Young Boys began to create one or two goalscoring chances – Kevin Mababu finding the side-netting being the most prolific – United were crying out for a substitute to increase the tempo. With an hour played, Mourinho obliged and brought on Pogba and Lukaku, but in truth that only encouraged the visitors.
From a corner kick on the left, the ball dropped for Mbabu whose shot on the turn deflected towards the inner corner of David De Gea’s net but the Spaniard scooped the ball from above his goalline to keep Young Boys out. De Gea was playing his part in the United team, but less so could be said for their strikeforce. Lukaku Headed wide at the back post, Fellaini volleyed skyward despite an open net present in front of him and Shaw shot tamely down the throat of Von Ballmoos.
The hosts’ frustration grew and Shaw pushing Jean-Pierre Nsame off the pitch when he was substituted was a consequence. Pass, pass, pass but no goal. Red seats became increasingly evident as the 90 minutes reached their conclusion. There was little urgency but a ball towards Fellaini in the Young Boys area was collected and dispatched. A result secured, so too a place in the next round, but this was again a test of the patience of the home crowd and the courage of their players.