Did Jose Mourinho’s fringe stars show enough signs of life at the Vitality Stadium to save their Man United careers

Matt Jones 19/04/2018
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Manchester United head to Wembley for their most important game of the season on Saturday, with the raucous sound of Manchester City’s title triumph, as well as the laughter following the comical way in which it was handed to them by the Red Devil’s meek loss to West Brom on Sunday, ringing in their ears.

The words of Jose Mourinho following that awful display will also have been heard very loudly by United’s under-performing stars, who bounced back in Wednesday’s 2-0 win against Bournemouth.

The manager said after the Baggies game that he had already decided to omit some of them from the side that face Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final, while vowing that some ‘phenomenal’ performers at the Vitality Stadium would even earn a place in his Wembley team.

Here, Matt Jones looks at some of United’s fringe players whose futures might be on the line against Spurs and in the remaining games, and assesses whether they should remain at Old Trafford next season.

MATTEO DARMIAN

Is probably the player whose future at United is most at threat, having been restricted to just 196 league minutes of football this season.

A Louis van Gaal signing, Darmian is clearly not a favourite of Mourinho, with the Italy international playing just 13 games in all competitions this season, compared to 29 last term and 39 in his debut campaign – though he has managed to record an impressive pass success rate of 85.9 per cent.

In fairness to the AC Milan academy graduate, he is predominantly played at left-back, despite being right-footed, but he has increasingly looked out of his depth – worryingly so in United’s 4-0 win against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup on January 26.

Came to England with such promise after four fine years at Torino, including a stunning season in 2014/15 that yielded five goals in 47 appearances.

Enjoyed a decent first campaign in Manchester the following year, including a memorable goal – his only one for United – in a 2-0 league win over Crystal Palace. Ironically scored with his left foot.

Should he be a United player next season: NO

Matteo Darmian

DALEY BLIND

Another Van Gaal signing, the Dutchman has been a wonderful versatile addition to the squad since arriving in 2014/15. Has only played 15 games this season in total but much of that has been due to an ankle injury.

Recently recovered from that three-month injury lay-off and may make his first league appearance since New Year’s Day against the Cherries.

Has only played 274 minutes of league football this term and has surprisingly not started in the Premier League since August.

Although he has many detractors among United fans and is pilloried for not being good enough, rarely puts a foot wrong, even though his lack of pace is a big issue.

His future at the club shouldn’t be in too much jeopardy as he’s been out for almost the entirety of 2018, while his ability to cover the centre-back, left-back and midfield positions make him a useful cog in the Mourinho machine.

Blind’s problem is, while versatile, he’s not particularly adept at any of his positions. His height (5’ 9”) hampers him being an imposing figure in the heart of defence, while his lack of pace prevents him being an attacking full-back option – though he is an accurate crosser of the ball.

Should he be a United player next season: YES

Daley Blind

LUKE SHAW

It’s been claimed the left-back’s future at United was plunged into jeopardy following a half-time bust-up with the boss in the FA Cup win over Brighton a month ago – but his whole United career seems to have been a painfully long plunge into obscurity.

Shaw hasn’t featured for United since being substituted at half-time in that game on March 17 – despite the fact he was having a fairly decent game.

The 22-year-old has not been part of United’s last two matchday squads and was left on the bench for the victory against Swansea City on March 31, but he did make the trip to Bournemouth.

Shaw has only started three Premier League matches this year and last lined up in the league against Huddersfield on February 3. Has only played seven times in the Premier League although in those appearances, he has failed to deliver one single accurate cross – with 23 inaccurate deliveries into the box.

Much like Anthony Martial, there is undoubtedly a talented footballer in there somewhere. But for all the criticism of Mourinho’s handling of him, Shaw does not help his own cause – with diet reportedly a massive issue for the former Southampton man.

Should he be a United player next season: YES

LukeShawManUnited

MAROUANE FELLAINI

It could be a case of hair today, gone tomorrow for the big Belgian, who is said to be attracting the interests of former club Everton.

Was a prominent fixture in the side during Mourinho’s first season but could be set for a move away following an injury-ravaged campaign.

Fellaini made 47 appearances last term, only Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic featured more times.

This season he has featured on only 18 occasions, though he has spent significant time on the sidelines with three separate knee injuries, and has still scored as many goals (four) as in 2016/17.

Fellaini has started only three Premier League games for United this season and his last appearance was as a late substitute against Brighton in the FA Cup.

The 30-year-old is approaching the last two months of his United contract and is expected to leave on a free transfer in the summer. Managed just five starts in an injury-plagued campaign and in addition, has found himself out of favour since rejecting United’s offer of a new deal in September.

Should he be a United player next season: NO

1005 Fellaini

ANDER HERRERA

It’s been some fall from grace for the tenacious Spaniard – who some may have forgotten was named the club’s player of the year last season.

But having lifted the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award following a brilliant 2016/17 campaign, something has gone drastically wrong for the Basque native this term – mainly the form of former Chelsea man Nemanja Matic.

The Serb has been superb in United’s engine room, while Herrera has mainly been left to feed off scraps, even though he has still appeared 33 times. He made 50 appearances last season, however, only Rashford (53) and Pogba (51) had more.

His 87 per cent pass success rate is the seventh best at United and only just behind Matic who has played 11 more games.

A tigerish midfielder who combines craft with graft, Herrera sits fourth in most tackles recorded for United this season with 46, while his average of 2.1 tackles per game is bettered by no-one.

When he has featured, the defensive side of his game has shone far more than his attacking prowess, which is perhaps another reason for his withdrawal into the shadows.

His creative spark and wide passing range are his biggest attributes, something United have not see much of this term, with just two assists in the league and Europe compared to seven last year.

Should he be a United player next season: YES

Ander Herrera 1

JUAN MATA

Has survived the Mourinho regime thus far, against all odds, with many expecting the Spaniard to be the first player out of the door when the man who criticised his defensive work at Chelsea took over in 2016.

Not only did he survive, but he thrived in Mourinho’s debut campaign, making 42 appearances in all competitions and scoring 10 goals last year for the third year in a row at Old Trafford. Has struggled badly for goals this term though, with just three so far in 37 appearances.

Has notched four assists in the league, placing him joint fourth, while no other player in a red shirt has played more key passes than Mata’s 44 (Pogba is next on 34).

United triggered a one-year extension in Mata’s contract in January, to ensure they would be entitled to a transfer fee from potential suitors in the summer. And even though he has survived this long, he’ll turn 30 before the end of the month and could be one of the casualties of an expected overhaul in the summer following a much improved league campaign for United.

Should he be a United player next season: NO

Juan Mata 1

ANTHONY MARTIAL

Oh what a frustrating player the Frenchman is. He is more talented than nearly the entire United squad, but the worry for Mourinho and United fans is he may never truly harness it.

Arrived amid a baptism of fire beneath the weight of a mighty £50m price tag, fairly ludicrous considering very few had ever heard of him, but he brushed those fears aside with a phenomenal winning goal on debut against Liverpool in 2015.

It’s been a bit of a meandering journey for Martial since then. He did bag an admirable 17 goals in 49 appearances in that debut 2015/16 campaign, but looked likely to exit last season with a paltry return of eight in 42.

Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have fallen foul of Mouinho’s wrath more than most during the Portuguese’s two-year tenure, but while Mkhitaryan’s run of form towards the end of last season – including a stellar contribution during the Europa League triumph – looked like he would push on, it is Martial who has survived with a decent return to form in 2017/18.

Eleven goals in 41 games this term proves this, while his seven league and Champions League assists put him second at the club behind Paul Pogba. Hasn’t scored in his last 11, however, and has struggled for starts.

Should he be a United player next season: YES

anthony-martial

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Rooney sidelined with knee ligament injury

Paul Hirst 18/02/2016
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Major concern: Rooney.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has refused to put a timeframe on how long Wayne Rooney will be absent for after confirming his captain had suffered a knee injury, with reports suggesting it could be up to two months.

A number of British newspapers reported the 30-year-old striker had sustained knee ligament damage that could sideline him for a couple of months, handing United a heavy blow in their pursuit of a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Rooney was not included in the travelling squad United announced yesterday for tonight’s Europa League last-32 first-leg clash at FC Midtjylland.

And Van Gaal said in his pre-match press conference: “We have 13 players injured and Wayne is one of them. It’s difficult to say but he’s injured in the game versus Sunderland and has a knee problem. We have to wait and see how long that takes. I cannot say.

“He scores a lot of goals so he is very important for us. We know that but we have to cope with that. Certainly in 2016, he has scored and that’s why we had a good run in matches until Sunderland. But we have to cope with that. Everybody can be injured and also the captain can be injured.”

If Rooney is facing a sustained period on the sidelines, it will be a significant setback both to his club and country. United are currently fifth in the Premier League, six points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City with 12 rounds of top-flight fixtures to go.

And Van Gaal, whose position has been under increasing scrutiny, admitted after Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Sunderland that winning the Europa League was looking the most viable route into the Champions League for his side.

Meanwhile, England have a double-header of international friendlies next month against Germany and Holland as they continue their preparations for this summer’s Euro 2016 finals.

Three Lions head coach Roy Hodgson said on Saturday that skipper Rooney – England’s all-time record goalscorer – will be “a player we need to depend upon” at the tournament in France.

Rooney has netted three times in four appearances for England this season, and is United’s top scorer this term with 14 goals in all competitions.

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Van Gaal unsure of Man Utd future if no Top Four

Paul Hirst 13/02/2016
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Uncertain future: Van Gaal.

Louis van Gaal does not know whether he will be at Manchester United next season if he fails to qualify for the Champions League.

United are six points shy of fourth-placed Manchester City with 13 matches of the season remaining.

When asked whether failure to make the top four or qualify for the Champions League via the Europa League would cost him his job, the United manager said: “It’s not a question for me, it’s a question for the board, you have to put it to them. I have a contract for three years and you know that.”

Van Gaal insists he has no problem with United’s failure to back him publicly. Speculation has been swirling around Van Gaal ever since United slipped out of the top four and exited the Champions League.

Unlike when David Moyes was under pressure, United have failed to intimate that Van Gaal has their backing. Some have taken that as a sign that Van Gaal has lost the faith of the board and that they are considering replacing him with Jose Mourinho.

But Van Gaal says he does not mind that the club have not made a statement backing him.

“I am not agreeing with that,” the Dutchman said when asked if he was disappointed about any lack of public backing from the club. “Because I have said many times that not all the media, but a lot of media, is inventing stories and you don’t have to answer on invented stories. I agree with this policy of the club.”

A winless run of eight matches towards the end of the year left Van Gaal’s position under scrutiny. United’s form has improved since the start of the year as the Red Devils have lost just once in 2016 and sit fourth in the form table.

Victory over Sunderland on Saturday would move United within three points of the Champions League places as the top four are all playing on Sunday.

Unfortunately for Van Gaal, eight of his players are absent through injury. Long-term absentees Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ashley Young remain sidelined while Phil Jones, Adnan Januzaj and Guillermo Varela all suffered injuries in the Under-21s’ 7-0 win over Norwich on Monday

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