Manchester United slumped to a defeat against Istanbul Basaksehir with some slipshod defending; and although they still have Champions League group qualification in their own hands, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might find this proves to be a costly defeat as he continues to come under pressure.
There have been many lows in United’s recent history and some dreadful goals conceded but it would take some searching to find a worse one than the one they let in early on when somehow every single outfield player committed themselves upfield for a corner.
The ball was cleared and Demba Ba – the sort of striker who made a nuisance of himself against United nine years ago but not really since – had the legs of his closest marker, who was Matic, and he slid the ball into the net. Ba is 35.
It was the sort of haphazard defending you wouldn’t expect to see from a professional team in any division in England and brought into the focus the fact that United don’t just concede goals, they concede bad goals.
Another came along to prove the point before half time. Edin Visca was the beneficiary of Ba’s dummy which absolutely caught Maguire out; Visca’s finish was accomplished and powerful.
It was a matter of tremendous concern. Nobody was taking responsibility – United looked as though they had a chasm in the middle of their team. Worst of all it was reminiscent of the terrible defending witnessed under Louis van Gaal at a time he came under pressure in December 2015, and also of Jose Mourinho’s last few months in charge. It was a sign that the players feel as if this managerial reign is coming to an end. They may well be right and their performances are only going to be an accelerant if so.
United’s response to going two down was much better than going one down; maybe it was a classic case of an opponent going to sleep for a second. Either way, Shaw’s cross was good, Martial’s header was better, and United had a goal back before the break.
In fairness to Shaw, his attacking form and crossing has improved since the signing of Telles. What a shame we haven’t seen this version of Shaw for the last two years because it would not have required a replacement. What a shame his defensive form hasn’t improved at the same time.
Solskjaer made a half-time switch – McTominay for Tuanzebe, with Matic moving into defence. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Cavani and Pogba came on for Mata and the ineffectual Van De Beek. Finally, as United struggled to turn territorial dominance into anything tangible, Greenwood and Fosu-Mensah came on for Rashford and Wan-Bissaka.
The only time United looked like scoring, the Turkish side were the ones who created the opening, but a goal bound deflection from a home defender was brilliantly cleared off the line. The hosts had been brilliant defensively with former United man Rafael the man of the match by a distance.
For their part, United looked like a bunch of individuals playing together for the first time again. The diamond shape was occupied by arguably the best fit of players but it was neat and pointless; Fernandes ought to have had the most joy with Mata and Van De Beek behind him but his own poor recent form continued.
The better players are playing with their heads down. Others are going through the motions. I’m obliged to mention the comments made by Bryan Robson in October 1986, when he told reporters how personally he was taking the speculation that Ron Atkinson was going to be sacked.
Roy Keane has become a rentaquote in the mind of some, wheeled out to point out the obvious flaws we can all see, just a little more harsh than some would like. He said at the weekend that this group of players are likely to get the manager the sack. It’s hard to see any other outcome the longer this goes on.
The expected changes came in, out of the spotlight of the Premier League, where Solskjaer could afford to ring those changes without it necessarily being seen as a player ‘dropped’. So there were chances for Van De Beek to play alongside Fernandes instead of being seen as a substitute for him. A chance to see how arguably the best fit for the diamond worked together. A chance for Henderson in a big game. Another opportunity for Tuanzebe.
It shouldn’t have been so bad. But it was. The defending shouldn’t have been that bad and you can’t pin that on the manager when it happens as it did today – the first goal in particular was a case of players just doing what they wanted without any discipline. The second was a case of them just not being good enough. What’s worse?
These aren’t one off games. It’s a pattern, one we’ve seen before, a familiar tale unfolding before our eyes.
How utterly frustrating. The players couldn’t be motivated and disciplined under Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho. They can’t, it seems, any longer under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In the end Mourinho could have few excuses. Ole is running out of them too, and in some ways is architect of his own downfall, showing too much trust in players.
How utterly frustrating.
Van De Beek 5