MOTM: Feyenoord 1-0 Manchester United – UEFA Europa League 2016/17

Jose Mourinho took charge of his first European match with Manchester United as they visited Dutch side Feyenoord in the first round of this season’s Europa League group stage. Changes were made to the usual starting lineup, as Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, and Morgan Schneiderlin made their first appearance in their starting lineup this season. Coming into the game following the derby defeat against Manchester City, United needed a good result to regain their momentum.

The first half was a dull affair, with United starting the game slowly. While they didn’t look incompetent going forward, there weren’t many attempts to do so. Despite having much fewer possession during the half, United never really looked threatened either. The second half was not much difference. Despite the early promise excitement from an Ander Herrera effort from distance at the start of the half, the game didn’t pick up. Mourinho attempted to rectify the situation by bringing on three substitutes, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ashley Young, and Memphis Depay, all at once, but nothing came of it. Instead, United fell behind to a well-struck finish from Tonny Vilhena, as a result of a brisk counter-attack and some lax defending from the left side. United failed to break down the Feyenoord defence, and will have to settle for coming home empty-handed.

It was a very uninspired performance for the United team as a whole. The attack failed consistently to create meaningful chances, failing to truly test Feyenoord goalkeeper Brad Jones, and while the defence wasn’t especially poor, they didn’t have to deal with much, and throughout the game didn’t inspire much confidence. There was no pace in the transitions, and no pressing without the ball. The mood of the team that shone through was almost like a lack of interest. Although, there might be a couple of exceptions to that.

The first exception was Paul Pogba. Now, like the rest of the team, Pogba’s performance was not strictly speaking praiseworthy. Especially by his own high standard, this performance wouldn’t take long to forget. However, Pogba still managed to drive the team forward repeatedly throughout the game. He’d take the ball at his feet and carry it forward from defence to attack. While not much came out of it, that contribution was necessary.

The second and most important exception was Morgan Schneiderlin. In a team performance so dull and boring, the player tasked with doing the simple things in midfield would still go under the radar. In his first proper run out under Mourinho, Schneiderlin was tasked with being the defensive midfielder in a new three-midfielder setup, and really he was the only United player on the pitch who did his job well. He’d win back possession and lay it off to the nearest available teammate. Nothing fancy or exciting, but with his role in the team that wasn’t what was called for. He kept it tidy and simple for most of the game, which will go unnoticed and unappreciated by some, but he was still the best United player on the pitch. He deservedly wins the title Man of the Match today, but he barely had any competition.

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