Manchester United's failings on display under Jose Mourinho in Valencia defeat
While United were already through to the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League the defeat to a struggling Spanish side was a dispiriting encounter for their travelling support
“Jose is at the wheel,” sang the 2,000 travelling Manchester United fans over and again in the second half of their side’s Uefa Champions League defeat in Valencia to the tune of The Stone Roses’ Waterfall.
“Tell me how does it feel, We’ve got Sánchez, Paul Pogba and Fred; Marcus Rashford, a Manc born and bred, Duh du, du du du du du, Duh du, du du du du du.”
Their tickets cost €85 (Dh354) to high up the third tier of the towering Mestalla – and for 85 minutes their team barely played before a late flurry.
The fans sang with more gusto and enthusiasm than the players they have paid to see showed, but they were a long way from being able to sing: “So good to have equalized, To lift up the lids of your eyes.”
Some United fans left the stadium before the end, the quality of the football a spoiler for a great trip to a beautiful city where the winter weather resembled a fine summer’s day in Manchester.
Valencians were hospitable and Manchester United’s players returned the generosity experienced by their fans by making life comfortable for their opponents on the pitch.
Had United won, they would have finished top of a tough Group H. But they looked as close to winning as on their last visit to Spain, when they were outclassed by Sevilla but held on to draw 0-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie in the 2017/18 competition.
As abject Manchester United performances go, this 2-1 defeat to Valencia was up there with some of the worst in recent times.
Jose Mourinho’s side had already qualified with a game to spare and, with Sunday’s trip to Anfield against Premier League leaders Liverpool in mind, saw eight changes from Saturday’s 4-1 win against Fulham.
But the players brought in failed to take their chance and his side were defeated for the seventh time this season. United have been 2-0 down in seven of their 21 games so far this term. They have fallen behind in 10 of their last 15 games.
The Valencia which beat them has been poor, winning only three of their 15 games and sitting 15th in the La Liga table.
Valencia fans are not happy and had protested with white hankies at the weekend since this side have managed only 12 goals in 15 games, but while they will play in the Europa League, they were still good enough to beat United with their best performance of the season.
Good enough to applaud former player Juan Mata, too. They did not quite give the same positive reception to Antonio Valencia, not because the Ecuadorian once played for Valencian rivals Villarreal, more because of an awful early tackle on Lato, for which the United full-back was fortunate to only received a yellow card.
One-time United target Carlos Soler scored after 16 minutes, with nobody close as he drilled the ball in. Santi Mina and Piccini had set him up.
Paul Pogba should have scored before half time but missed from close range. He was fortunate the referee incorrectly flagged for offside, but the first half was for Valencia and their appreciative, noisy, fans.
United were limp all over, short of options, movement and ideas. Phil Jones scored a 47th minute own goal to give yet another team a 2-0 score line against United. At the other end, United did not have a single shot on goal until the 72nd minute – a rolling effort from Rashford that was easily saved.
There was a flicker of defiance when Rashford did find the net with an 87th minute header from an Ashley Young cross.
Mata had another chance late, but there was to be no great last-gasp rival as there had been a month ago when they came from behind to win in Turin against Juventus.
The goal provided something to cheer for the United travelling support, but it proved to be only a consolation. They deserve so much better than seeing their team perform only for the last five minutes, dead rubber or not.
“I’m not pleased,” said Jose Mourinho of the game, before adding. “I think that to qualify in this group is a success, never a failure.
Asked if he regretted not winning the game since his team would have finished top, the United manager replied: “I don’t think the draw will be significantly different apart from a couple of club which are clearly much better than the others, but I expect from my players – especially players who ask me why they don’t play and start.
"It was a good match to play, a match without any pressure in a competition which everyone wants to play.
"But in the end my team improved when I made the changes which I didn’t want to play – I didn’t want to bring the players (Lingard, Rashford and Young). I didn’t learn anything from this game.”
Fortunately for him, he had not paid to see it.
Updated: December 13, 2018 09:46 AM