Manchester United: what does loss to Newcastle show?

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United leads his team out before the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St. James Park on February 11, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United leads his team out before the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Manchester United at St. James Park on February 11, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /

Once more Manchester United stumbled to a surprising defeat at a struggling side lower down the league, this time to Newcastle.

Manchester United dropped crucial points in the race for a top four position and Champions League football next season.

That defeat leaves them a massive 16 points adrift of Manchester City with the title surely certain to go to the Etihad Stadium. More relevantly given other results, this loss also puts second place in jeopardy.

Liverpool won again at Southampton and now they lie only 2 points behind United. And the defeat at St James Park once more underlines how brittle and inconsistent United still are.

For all of Mourinho’s much vaunted reputation and the massive sums spent by him since his arrival at Old Trafford, the teams he picks still seem strangely erratic and defensively vulnerable.

It’s a good job that he has a player widely regarded as the league’s best keeper between the sticks, otherwise you wonder where United would be now. David De Gea is probably the main reason United have statistically the best defence in the league.

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Mourinho has chopped and changed his defensive line-up and formation without finding a solid or reliable group of players. True he has had injuries to his centre halves to cope with but then so do other sides.

He also spent around £30 million in the summer on a central defender, Victor Lindeloff, who has made no impact at all. Then in the January transfer window Mourinho didn’t make any attempt to strengthen at the back instead contenting himself with the addition of striker Alexis Sanchez.

As I’ve mentioned before although Sanchez is an outstanding player, it remains to be seen how he will fit into Manchester United’s team. His addition makes it impossible for Mourinho to pick everyone he wants to up front.

It also means that Paul Pogba is asked to play a deeper more defensive role and that reduces his ability to influence games for United. His performance was way below what should be expected but to get the best from him he surely needs to be playing in the right position?

There’s a wider point though. This season could be seen as marking a shift in the mentality and approach needed for success in the modern game.

City’s sensational football this season might be very difficult for any other team to reproduce without the combination of that clubs financial clout and manager Pep Guardiola’s attacking philosophy.

However it’s perhaps more realistic for other clubs and managers to adopt a more open, flexible and positive mentality. There are several dour and literally defensive managers in the premier league who exude a negative mind-set. And it could be that is having a consequence on the pitch.

These coaches are mainly found at clubs struggling in the league. Perhaps that is inevitable when you are battling in the bottom half of the table and lack the resources and pulling power of the top clubs.

The temptation is to turn to established managers with a pragmatic, defensively orientated attitude and not given to risky tactics. Look at the managerial changes this season starting with Crystal Palace sacking Ronald De Boer after just a few games and replacing him with Roy Hodgson.

Then Everton parted company with another Dutchman called Ronald as they fired Koeman and eventually brought in Sam Allardyce. Both these former England managers are renowned for their focus on solid defence and a cautious, risk free approach to their football.

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However it’s not just down the bottom of the table where you find managers with this outlook. Jose Mourinho is a coach who these days exudes an increasingly negative, quarrelsome attitude in his interviews and press conferences.

It does seem to be reflected at times in his team’s performances too. Manchester United sometimes seem a strangely lacklustre and lethargic side as if Mourinho has transmitted his negativity to his players.

But perhaps the main lesson of this season is that for sustained success it is vital to have that positive and open approach to your management, regardless of the exact playing style you adopt.

The two teams playing the best football this season, Manchester City and Liverpool, both have coaches who are very positive and demonstrative in their approach. Indeed so was Antonio Conte at Chelsea when they won the title last season.

Another example is Mauricio Pochettino the Tottenham manager. Like Chelsea, Spurs are built on a solid defence. Nevertheless Pochettino is a manager with an open-minded, flexible approach particularly when it comes to promoting youngsters both at Spurs and his previous club Southampton.

But you don’t have to be a manager of a top four club to do it. Look at Sean Dyche at Burnley. Here is a manager who despite the lack of relative spending power and star players, has created a feisty, determined mentality in his team, while he is an affable and likable individual.

Although Burnley have faltered recently they are still enjoying a very good season sitting comfortably in the top half of the table.

Next: Manchester United lose to Newcastle

I think that Dyche’s approach provides a good model for other clubs looking to break the dominance of the established elite. It also represents the rewards that can accrue when a manager is given time to develop a team in his image.