Feyenoord make it back-to-back defeats for Manchester United
The weekend’s derby defeat followed by another poor performance in Europa League
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho watched his team lose their first game of the Europa League group stages. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters
José Mourinho was so enamoured of the surface here he declared if “you don’t play on it, go home” so the Portuguese will surely be furious at this limp surrender from Manchester United.
The goalless draw the contest was heading for was poor enough. But then Tonny Vilhena pulled the trigger 12 minutes from time and Feyenoord were ahead, albeit with an offside in the buildup. Meanwhile, United were staring at a second defeat on the bounce in five days.
Just as in the first half of Saturday’s derby defeat, United had been toothless and disjointed throughout and there appeared scant prospect of them fashioning an equaliser. They failed to do so – even when Ashley Young had clear sight of goal at the death, he spooned wide.
But even more worrying for Mourinho is his side at least improved in the second half of that 2-1 loss to Manchester City. Not tonight. This was hardly the inspiring, winning start to the Europa League quest the manager talked up beforehand. Instead, United fly home straight after this near-debacle with zero points and suddenly Sunday’s trip to Watford has a new complexion.
For this opening Group A fixture Mourinho made eight changes. Only David De Gea, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly were retained as Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian, Marcus Rashford, Morgan Schneiderlin and Marcos Rojo all made a first start under the Portuguese.
What the XI he sent out found was a feverish Stadion Feijenoord that gave a lovely late summer’s eve a cauldron-like atmosphere to play in.
United, though, did more defending than more of the actual roving forward and attacking they would have wished during the opening half – a patter that continued after the break.
Instead, Giovanni van Bronckhurt’s men pinned United back. Dirk Kuyt had a cross blocked by Darmian as the first corner was conceded. This yielded nothing for the Eredivise leaders and, later, when Steven Berghuis cut in from his righthand berth to have a left-footed curler saved comfortably by De Gea.
Mourinho arranged his team in a loose 4-2-3-1 in which Pogba was the nominal No10. This was the first time the world record signing had been pushed forward to have a free role. Since the transfer from Juventus Pogba’s offering has been underwhelming so here was a chance to lead the side in the manner demanded for that outlay.
As the 30-minute mark neared there had been some arm-waving, one aimless header, a free-kick hit straight at Brad Jones, and not much else. United were stilted too. Anything approaching decent for them tended to occur along the left where Anthony Martial’s ability allowed him to fracture the home defence.
The France international came closest for United when drifting into the more central position he can also play. Martial’s shot beat Jones but not the goalkeeper’s left post.
Of United’s centre-forward for the night, Mourinho had said: “I don’t want to put any pressure on Rashford, I just want him to play well. Of course, to win we need to score goals and tonight he’s the striker. Hopefully he can deliver for us, but no pressure.”
The disjointed shape of United’s play meant Rashford was close to a spectator until he was hauled off in the second half. There were a couple of trademark dribbles and dummies – with varying success – but when required to be on the end of a are fluid United move he was absent.
Here, Martial, again in-field, found Rojo and the left-back put in a cross the curved viciously but had no United player to stab home.
The opening stanza ended with two Feyenoord corners and scare for United. First. Ander Herrera and Schneiderlin were beaten to 50-50s. Then Terence Kongolo rounded Darmain with ease along the left. In came the ball to Jens Toostra, and his effort should have tested De Gea, at least.
When Jesús Gil Manzano blew for the break Mourinho ran off down the tunnel possibly to prepare some stern words for a group who, on the whole, had been sleepwalking.
Unfortunately for the manager, players and travelling fans the same dour stuff was the second half fare. Instead, Feyenoord again seemed most likely to break the deadlock. Karim El Ahmadi, a midfielder who puts the niggle-factor into his side, banged a shot at goal that missed narrowly to De Gea’s right.
At the other end Rashford had a burst that asked the question of Van Bronckhurt’s team but the material result was nil. At last Pogba suggested what he is about by skating past a couple of Feyenoord players before pulling a 25-yarder wide.
By the 63rd-minute Mourinho had seen enough and a triple substitution was administered. Off came Rashford, Martial and Juan Mata and on came Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Memphis Depay and Ashley Young.
And the presence of Smalling up front in the closing minutes as United desperately tried to scramble a goal may also bring scorn from all non-United followers. So, too, this result and its manner.