Fresh from a hard earned, if unspectacular, point away at Anfield, Manchester United turned on the style against much weaker opposition, in the shape of Fenerbache in the Europa League home tie. A fluid and slick performance saw United have all the possession, that put together enough chances to comfortably afford Robin Van Persie a goal on his return to Old Trafford, seemingly celebrated just as much as any of the four goals the home side scored.
Fast forward to the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge for the clash against his former employers in Chelsea, the first time he has turned up in the away dugout in a league clash. It was the opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table, especially after there were dropped points by a number of title rivals.
But if indeed United see themselves as title rivals, the result against Chelsea will certainly put serious doubt in the credentials of the red side of Manchester.
A game that started in the worst possible way for Mourinho’s men didn’t improve and by full time the acid test that was in front of them would appear to have dissolved United’s true title ambitions.
Seeing the starting line-up prior to the kick-off against the Blues will have no doubt left fans frustrated with the absence of Luke Shaw and the never-ending bemusement of finding Marouane Fellaini on the team sheet yet again. Sure, his performance against Liverpool did contribute to stifling the attacking threat of Klopp’s team and against Chelsea, he wasn’t directly at fault for any of the four goals conceded, but it’s Fellaini’s flaws that lay the foundations for United’s current inadequacies.
His slow, cumbersome frame looks hugely out of place at a club who’s previous ethos relied on pace, power and penetration, none of which he provides. What Fellaini did demonstrate against Chelsea was a lack of positional discipline and a continued inability to win tackles, often leading to fouls and the obligatory yellow card every time he steps onto the field.
He also holds back the influence of the more creative and talented midfielders around him. Ander Herrera struggles to coordinate the defensive duties in front of the back four and Paul Pogba is receiving all the criticism for not stamping his £90million worth of authority on a game, mainly because he is trying to perform the attacking duties of the midfield on his own.
In comparison, Micheal Carrick’s composure and simple passing game keeps United ticking as highlighted in the comfortable win against Fenerbache, a contribution so far from the reach of Fellaini’s ability. Whilst the veteran midfielder is not the long term answer for Mourinho, his calming influence on those around him allow for the creative force in United’s team to come to life and the manager must move forward with that in place.
With Carrick and the back five in place, the forward line can concentrate on the ethos that United have been lacking for large parts of the season thus far and possibly look like the title contenders that they apparently are meant to be