Let’s get some home truths out-of-the-way : Defeat in the Manchester derby was not altogether unexpected. In the collective season so far, City have only trailed for all of 20 minutes! Succinctly put, an evaluation of Manchester United’s season against that of City is logically flawed.
Now obviously this is not to make excuses because expectations at the biggest club in the land will always remain justified if only because of that status. Indeed, the damning and bashing has already had its day in the sun with all those column inches and radio/television programming to fill. However, little or no case at all has been made for the defence. It’s only fair that the other side of the coin is given due consideration.
For starters, City and United did not end the last campaign on equal footing. By qualifying for the Champions League via the league, City ended the campaign two places better than United. Whilst United were in yet another managerial and philosophical transition, we were told that City bad been putting in place the ‘furniture’ for a Pep Guardiola arrival since 2012. The name Jose Mourinho only came into contention at United in January 2016!
Over the past summer transfer window, the perception was that both managers were starting out on an equal footing and yet of the pair, only the Spaniard came out without so much as a quarrel with his Board over the failure to land transfer targets. Regardless, the minimum requirement this season was a title challenge from Jose Mourinho. Whilst winning the title was ‘politically’ listed as a target, improving from 6th place to 1st place as the rest of the league stood by and watched was always going to be a tough ask….. even by Manchester United’s standards.
The spending is obviously used as a stick to beat the top clubs with but a saturation of elite talent in one league at a few clubs means that the rest have to make do with second or even third tier purchases that command prices that are hardly their net value in terms of quality. £35m these days only gets you Oxlade-Chamberlain. In other words a 20 goal striker these days would at least be double that fee! At least in the mind of his agent. Therein lies the difficulty United faced in agreeing to Inter-Milan’s £45m valuation of Ivan Perisic. Since that transfer failure, the other failures this season read: defending for a point at Anfield and 3 premier league defeats to Huddersfield, Chelsea and the aforementioned City.
Perspective holds that United have never been in better shape at this stage of the season since Fergie retired. In February, United will make a first appearance in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the Great Scott led the club there in his final season.
Perspective also holds that United have already won as many home league games as they did in the whole of last season. Regardless of how shabby the situation seems right now, fans will do well to remember that it was ‘shittier’ only a year ago. In that sense, United and indeed Mourinho’s biggest flaw this campaign is that City have raised the bar ten fold. Whereby being the second best club in the country means being 11 points behind City. And yet looking at the glass half-empty ignores the fact that United have been better than rest of the so-called big six.
United ended the last campaign 24 points worse than Chelsea. They currently lead the defending Champions by three points. A 24 point swing in a matter of months is no mean feat! And whilst we all know if for a fact that all teams suffer from injuries, United have fared worse in that respect than the team above them in the league. Having lost their best player for two months early in the season, the club has also been unable to call on their best central defensive partnership all season so far. Indeed, Eric Bailly’s injury ruling him out for a further three months means that Mourinho will not have his best defensive pair to call on until the tail end of the season. Bailly has only played 10 games so far in all competitions. Marcos Rojo made his first start at Old Trafford this season in the City derby but barely lasted 45 minutes. All that is before we discuss the midfield crisis that has left Nemanja Matic overly stretched, to the point of having to play with an injury, according to the manager.
As far as the jabs about attacking football are concerned, perspective requires that we temper those jabs with the fact that United have outscored all but City and PSG in the top Euro leagues so far.
Ultimately, we’d all do well to recognize that the season is not yet even at the halfway point. And while that carries a possibility of things getting worse, it also means that it could get better from hereon. From where we are currently, better would translate into an awesome season.
Here’s to a better 2018!