Manchester United lost 1-0 to Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday thanks to a first half penalty from Eden Hazard. Contributing writer, Nathan Quao, notes the main stories from the encounter.
The curse of the poor start appeared again
This column has spoken many times of the team’s shaky start to matches across the season and in the cup final, the gremlins were back at work.
The Red Devils struggled to get into a rhythm in the first half and failed to create anything worthy of note.
The passing was sloppy and there was not enough movement to make things happen especially on the offensive.
The partnership of Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard did not seem to understand what they were supposed to in attack and very often, were seen cluttered in the same space when spreading out and being available passing options was the better thing to do.
There were also no runners from midfield and that forced Man United to stall the build-up and make Chelsea comfortable.
By the time, Jose Mourinho tried fighting the tide, the damage was done.
Poor individual performances
Alexis Sanchez, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford. Three names whose output did not match the needed standard on the day.
For Jones, his day was summed up in the error-ridden process that led to Hazard’s penalty for the eventual winner.
After being trumped by Hazard to a long ball, the England defender failed to stop his man and followed up until he fouled the Belgian player for the penalty.
Even though he did not commit any more grave errors, he looked off-colour and could not deal with Olivier Giroud well.
Alexis Sanchez tried and tried but he could not find anything from his repertoire to change the result.
Marcus Rashford’s showing on the day only added more critics to a list that is quite long.
He had to lead the line in place of Lukaku but he fell below expectation.
Agreed, he did not have the physique to take on the likes of Gary Cahill but he could not also outsmart them either and he stayed in areas that had no effect on the day.
When he had a good chance to level the score in the first half, he fired a very weak shot.
Paul Pogba had a good game but his header late on should have been on target. One cannot forget that.
Crucial next steps needed
The cold, hard truth is that Man United finished trophyless and that should concern everyone. Champions League is in the bag but that is just about it.
The team must start repairing the cracks very quickly if a more successful title challenge will be mounted next season.
Some players will have to be moved on and that cannot be avoided. The Red Devils cannot progress with the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones in the team as the main centre-backs.
No one knows the plan for the midfield and wide areas but Man United need to find players who be able to provide width and crosses for Romelu Lukaku to score more than the 15 or so league goals he bagged.
A lot more will win matches and points that will send the team closer to a title and trophies.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford need to grow quickly especially in their decision-making.
For the Frenchman, it is not clear what he will do next or what the team wants to do with him but if he stays, thinking clearer is what he should do better.
All in all, the season is now done. The cup went away. Champions League will be at Old Trafford next season. But things will have get far better next term.
Players need to show more hunger. They must want to win every single match and they must see that no team is too small or too big to beat Man United. Every team wants a bit of the Red Devils and that should serve as enough motivation for Man United to start every match with intent.
Next season, fans will not tolerate the sleepy, dreary first halves.
The manager must do all he can to win matches and when he must outclass the opposition to the point of submission, he should not be afraid to do it.
The handbrakes should go off sometimes. Players need to have space to be creative because their best lies in the freedom of independent decision-making.
But the manager must win. He must be victorious and be ruthless when need be. Trophies are the lifeblood of Manchester United. A lot more are welcome. A lot more should come.
See you next season!!!