Terrace Talk: Manchester United - Pogba not missed as ‘scowler’ Jose outfoxes Scousers

Paul Pogba.

I support United at football, France at rugby and, naturally, adopt a ‘Friend Of Ireland’ default position in all your island’s endeavours. (Yes, even over Brexit). So a day that saw France win Le Crunch, United beat the Scouse, and Ireland lift the Six Nations was always going to challenge my temperance resolution.

A bottle-bearing Irish neighbour saw to the rest.

Of the above, France’s was probably the unlikelier result, although United’s turned out to be just as much of a last-minute nailbiter.

There the similarities end, though. Much of the sporting media were happy to lay into loser England’s many deficiencies in Paris, whereas rather too many hacks were inclined to make excuses for loser Liverpool and offer only faint praise to United.

‘Twas ever thus; Anfield has always benefited from a type of ‘second club’ support from vast swathes of English journalists, most of whom fall over themselves to make excuses for charmer Klopp and minimise any achievements by scowler Mourinho.

We are resigned to this; the German and Portuguese seemingly have their panto roles set in stone now.

José was understandably quick to pick up on this, and made the telling point that, for all their possession, Liverpool never managed to force a decent save out of De Gea. As he remarked: “You can control a game, even when you don’t have the ball.”

Of course, no-one would wish to see any United side play week in, week out, on a minimal possession basis, especially not at Old Trafford, where 75,000 do come to “see United play” — meaning “with the ball”, not closing down spaces and waiting for counter opportunities.

But there’s no harm in occasional indulgences in tactical wizardry against the soft-arsed likes of Liverpool. José predicted LFC would prettily puff and wheeze to no discernible impact, set out a team to both counter that, and watched the plan succeed. No complaints here — although that last 20 was much hairier than it needed to be.

Several players did themselves huge favours by turning in individual performances that were both efficient and committed — Young, Bailly, McTominlay, and Lukaku deserve special mention — but it was also useful to see the effect of a non-player.

A few months ago, Pogba’s absences were costing the team sorely; but on Saturday, he simply wasn’t missed. He and his agent are thus invited to learn a valuable
lesson therefrom.

United are now in the midst of what we sometimes used to call a Treble Week — ie one in which United play games in all three Treble tournaments of league, FA Cup, and European Cup. Sadly, of course, one third of that triptych isn’t going to be available for us to win this season.

But by time we next meet, United could (and frankly should) be through to the European quarters, the cup semis, and set fair for league runners-up.

Cast your mind back a few weeks when we were stumbling to serial draws amidst catcalls for the Mourinho style; you’d have snatched the season’s arm off for this vista.

All this is being wrought against a background of ongoing grumbling about imperfections. Mourinho’s squad is not where he thought it would be by now.

I am told he has been privately muttering about his defence still not being as reliable as it ought to be; he has not finally settled his attacking personnel, and he obviously has a potential Pogba issue to contend with.

Some sources claim up to half a dozen players will leave the club this summer, and José will obviously want as many of them replaced as possible.

As one source put it to me the other week: “we’re a window behind schedule”. Hey; as long as there’s a schedule — and thus a map, and a destination — we’re on board the train.

After years wandering about in circles in the desert it’s just great to be told someone may have an idea where we’re going, and how...


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