A loss will always come as a blow but we can have no complaints about losing to Serie A champions Juventus. They are so far ahead of Manchester United in every department and Tuesday night ought to be a wake up call to show how far behind we are from the standard required to compete at the highest level.
Without further ado, Jamie takes us through some of the talking points from Old Trafford on Tuesday night as the Reds were unable to nick a point against a star-studded Juventus side.
Streetwise Juve a cut above
Juventus took complete control of Group H and maintained their 100% record in the Champions League this season, meaning that if they win the return fixture in Turin in a fortnight they will qualify as group winners.
This was a dream for the Italian side – having established an early lead, and marshalled expertly by Chiellini and Bonucci, Juve proved why they’re not only Champions League favourites for many but also that they remain masters of the classic “catenaccio”. It was a lesson in steel, organisation and game management. United asked questions and the team’s efforts cannot be faulted but you got the feeling that the Old Lady would have sat there and headed the ball away until Christmas. Juve are everything Mourinho wants United to be. They are the most complete side I’ve seen for a while and will take some stopping.
If Lukaku is the answer then what’s the question
Romelu Lukaku has now not scored for United for over a month since he found the net at Watford on September 15. Beyond simply his dry spell in front of goal, his lack of movement, poor touch and profligacy in possession has become very worrying and more of a hindrance than a help.
It’s surely only the lack of alternative options that is keeping him in the team because he does not deserve his place at the minute. But if he’s dropped, who could replace him up top? If there is such a thing as “second season syndrome” then Lukaku is suffering a nasty dose of it after an excellent first season in Red. Again, nothing went right for him against Juventus, and the Italian champions kept him in check all too easily. He looks shot of confidence and hard to see where he goes from here.
Our fate will hinge on trip to the Mestalla
Valencia were held to a draw by Young Boys in the other Group H fixture, and that means that – for now at least – United remain in pole position for the second qualifying spot on four points, two ahead of the La Liga side.
Given that our next game sees the return fixture in Turin and a win over Young Boys at Old Trafford would appear a formality, there is every chance that United will head into the final matchday in Valencia neck and neck with the Spanish side, and needing a result to be certain of a last 16 spot. Eight points is usually enough to get you through, so if Young Boys can repeat the feat next time against Marcelino’s men, then United will remain well placed. Either way, the thought of a winner takes all showdown with Valencia for qualification isn’t one that’s good for the heart. Juve were always favourites to take top spot and the group is panning out as expected
Ronnie busy on OT return
Predictably, the return of Ronaldo dominated the headlines as soon as the draw was made. He didn’t score, but set up the winner for Paulo Dybala and tested David De Gea on more than one occasion.
The 33-year-old’s performance, particularly in the first half when Juventus were completely dominant, was a reminder of his former glories here and a time when United were a team renowned for their attacking flair. He started the game on the left but Juve’s fluid front three meant he often popped up on the right, as he did to set up Juve’s goal, or in the centre, often interchanging throughout.
The Portuguese forward could not cap his display with a goal – De Gea’s fine save to tip over his curling shot shortly after the break was his best effort – but this was still an impressive demonstration of his enduring quality. That meant he was the last player to leave the pitch, and he was cheered off by all sides of Old Trafford, while clapping and touching his chest to show what their applause meant to him.
Plenty of energy and effort but no end product
This game followed an achingly familiar pattern – a pattern that is becoming a reoccurring one under Mourinho. Juventus were far superior before half-time, and although United played with more energy and purpose after the interval, there was little in the way of end product to trouble La Biaconeri. Paul Pogba came closest against his old club, but this was a chastening reminder of the gaping chasm that there now is between United and the very best Europe has to offer. United shouldn’t be judged on games against teams which boast the outstanding calibre of Juventus, but the visitors came to our own patch and stroked the ball around as if they were the home side.