Birthday boy Sir Alex Ferguson was treated to a 75th birthday present fitting to his Manchester United legacy. Despite Lee Mason’s determination to sour the day, United pulled off a late comeback thanks to the brilliance of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba, whose late goals won three valuable points for United on the last day of 2016.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s disallowed goal before half time courtesy of Mason’s incorrect decision to award Middlesbrough a free kick for high contact against the Swede almost shaped the game before the Red Devils of old returned to win the day. This was a more resilient United than seen earlier in the season, when this game would have resulted in a draw or loss.

Are United heading into 2017 the best we’ve seen since Sir Alex? It’s starting to certainly feel that way.

Calls For Video Technology Becomes Screams

“Manchester United get all the decisions”, detractors say. I personally, beg to differ:

Lee Mason became the latest referee to no longer be welcome at Old Trafford, as his decision to not award a goal for this incident is likely to be very talked about until the next controversy hits the FA.

For further clarification, Valdes was not near the ball when Ibrahimovic put it past him and if anything it is Valdes who fouls Ibrahimovic by clattering into him after the shot.

Manchester United have been fortunate in some decisions, there’s no doubt about it. Marcos Rojo should almost certainly have been red carded once, if not twice for two dangerous tackles, and two goals scored by United (by Paul Pogba and Juan Mata) have attracted divided opinion on whether they should have counted.

Bad decisions and the lack of accountability for them are an increasing problem for football, and it’s costing United points on the field. They’re not the only ones either, and there has to come a point where decisions that cost players and managers their jobs results in change at a bigger level. It’s beyond the point of embarrassment.

Mason’s bad decision cost Ibrahimovic the record goal tally in 2016 tied with Lionel Messi, as he finished one short as a result of the blunder. Jose Mourinho held back in the press conference, not risking a suspension despite the horrid call.

“It’s hard because obviously we respect the referees and we know that they want to do well and Lee [Mason] will be very disappointed for sure because now he knows. But, for us, it’s very disappointing,” Mourinho said.

“We scored a beautiful goal that would have made it 1-0 at half-time, and Zlatan would be with Messi as the top scorers of 2016 in European football [in the top five leagues]. It stopped him finishing level with Messi so it’s quite frustrating.”

Martial Tortures Boro

Calum Chambers is likely going to take a while to recover from what was done to him on Saturday evening, as Anthony Martial danced and waltzed past him time and again, as the makeshift right back was forced to endure a terrible outing at the hands of the Frenchman.

It was Martial’s far and away best performance of the season to date under Mourinho, and cemented his place alongside Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as the best selection of United’s attacking options in the front three trident. His place at the club has come under the spotlight, but Mourinho urged him to ignore the speculation.

“He played, he created, he scored, he fought. I think he was very positive. I know he’s a top talent. Anthony has to listen to me, and not listen to his agent. He has to listen to me in training every day and listen to the feedback I give to try to improve players.

With [Henrikh] Mkhitrayan, almost every day, his agent called me and said, ‘Mkhitaryan with you will become a better player, keep going.’ With Martial, I every day I read in the newspaper, ‘Martial goes to Sevilla, Martial goes on loan, Martial is not happy.’ Martial has to listen to me.”

 

He was part of an attack that had more than 30 shots on goal prior to his late equaliser, but the French youngster helped provide a much needed dynamic to the attack that had been lacking from the left side most of the campaign thus far. His cross set up Ibrahimovic’s disallowed strike, and he hit a humming strike that smashed the post prior to that.

2017 is a new beginning for Martial, as he looks to get his United career back to where it was in 2015/16.

Smalling Struggles Cause Concern

The right side of defence armed with Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly held firm against Middlesbrough, and the combination continued their strong form as part of the best XI. On the other side however, there were struggles. Daley Blind struggles against Boro’s width and pace, and seemed unusually uncomfortable in possession.

More concerning though, was the display of Chris Smalling. Apart from scoring against Leicester and holding firm against Liverpool, the Englishman has had a horrid campaign. Despite starring under Louis Van Gaal, playing in a more attacking side and being more exposed has not suited him at all.

His last start in the 4-0 disastrous flogging at the hands of Chelsea was one of his worst ever at United, where he was responsible for all four goals. Yet again he took responsibility for a goal conceded, as his slowness to react and leaving Grant Leadbitter far too much space as he put it past David De Gea to give his side the lead.

Smalling was substituted and disappeared onto the bench, and some will wonder when he will return. The Englishman will want it to be soon, otherwise Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo will continue to solidly their places and simultaneously weaken Smalling’s.

Pogba Continues To Reign Supreme

What a magnificent privilege it is to watch Manchester United at present, but particularly the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David De Gea, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and co. The greatest of all right now though? Paul Pogba. He was magnificent yet again for United, and it’s hard to remember now the last time he put in a performance that wasn’t brilliant.

He’s grown into the team and his role progressively, and the team’s change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to a more fluent 4-3-3 has brought the best from Pogba. His ability to drive the ball from deep, shoot from range and create from any area on the pitch has made him unplayable.

Pogba’s long passing was an utter joy, his headed winner was terrific and his acrobatic overhead kick unluckily hit the post. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that he was the player to have hit the post/crossbar more than any other player in the Premier League. He’s a gift to United and football, what a ludicrous talent.

Resilience Returns

Manchester United were brilliant in their comeback, going out in search of a win at any cost. Defence was sacrificed for attack, and the Red Devils went gung-ho in search of a result the club absolutely needed to get. They displayed a resilience, determination and mental fortitude not shown earlier in the season.

This could be a turning point for Manchester United, with Manchester City losing and United now within touching distance of the teams above them. A positive result against West Ham could be pivotal, with United heading in an upwards trajectory fast in search of revitalising their 2016-17 season.

There’s a good feeling in the air for the first time in a very long time at Old Trafford. Now just a temporary one, but the genuine hope of an upturned season. Can they make 2017 the year known as when their return to prominence became official?