|Martial reacts to a missed chance against Feyenoord last night|
Two defeats in six days on the surface looks like the start of a major dip in form. Jose Mourinho however will argue that there are mitigating circumstances upon closer examination of the two games. United improved on their second first half performance against City, so much so that in the end, it felt like they deserved at least a point from the game. Last night in the Europa league, there were eight chances from the starting XI against City and none of those who came in did much to suggest that the manager will have a selection headache for the visit to Vicarage Road on Sunday at noon.
That, however, is as far as the case for the defence can go. The reality is that as it stands for United under the new regime, there is little certainty about the progress made so far in light of the expectations come May. It is a given that doing better that Louis van Gaal last season will come easily for Jose simply because it was that bad. In that sense, progress will be easily accounted for.
However, if the target is to be Champions of England for the 21st time, then the yardstick for measuring progress is subjected to more intense scrutiny. For starters, does Jose Mourinho know his best Manchester United team? Does that team include all four 'necessary' summer signings? Has he worked out how to efficiently utilise his world record signing? Is there discernible method? Clarity of thought?
The risk in seeking answers to all those questions in September is in being judgemental too soon. Uprooting the infamous philosophy of Louis van Gaal was never going to be that easy considering the amount of time it took to sink in. Indeed, last night in Rotterdam, United were very much leaning towards the kind of performance in built in them under the old regime.
Feyenoord let United enjoy possession and control of proceedings for as long as United played infront of the hosts. As such, there was little or no penetration in behind the Dutch side. United traded the directness they've come to be associated with under Jose for more ponderous yet conservative passes. You knew therefore that it would only take one break-away goal, however unfortunate, to clinch the deal for the hosts. A very familiar script for United fans.
Not that there will be much time to dwell on that. A run of 7 games in 17 days means that the depth in quality within the squad will be severely tested. Watford away in the premier league on Sunday, so early that it will clash with some church services, awaits United.
The real chance to respond to what has been a forgettable week is then. In all probability, United will be six points off the pace at kick-off. Given the margins this season, it is a gap you don't want to create so early on as there will be limited opportunities to recover.
There'll be nothing new on Sunday that the players aren't briefed about. A good old fashioned premier league battle away from home. What might have eluded them though is that unlike in the old league when a top team turned up at Vicarage Road and picked up all three points without getting a shirt dirty, the modern version requires that every point is hard earned. The gap in quality has been greatly reduced by effort. United need to get their hands dirty in much the same way they played that second half in the derby. There's simply no points for a huge wage bill.