The importance of the two points dropped. After the 0:3 win at Burnley last weekend, United were in good mood going into the Manchester derby Thursday night at the Etihad. Following the derby, United would host struggling Swansea City on Sunday at noon. Jose Mourinho, again, lamented the congested fixture schedule and having to play at noon on Sunday after a Thursday night game. The lads, however, put to the training ground to prepare for these crucial matches, albeit without a long list of players. Missing from action are the long-term injuries to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba picked up a knock at Turf Moor but Juan Mata returned for the Swansea match on the bench. Here’s a recap of the derby and Swansea matches.
Manchester United are used to playing on Thursday nights in the Europa League, but a Premier League match on a Thursday night is rare for the Reds. United went into the Manchester derby one point behind 4th-placed City and a win would have put them two points ahead and within a point of 3rd-placed Liverpool. Instead, the boys played out a 0:0 draw at the Etihad. United were on top in the first half, City were better in the second. It was an end-to-end game with chances in both nets, with Mkhitaryan having a good attempt saved by Claudio Bravo and Herrera catching onto a free header at the far post after Rashford took a free-kick from the left wing but it went wide of the post. Sergio Aguero and De Bruyne had shots saved well by De Gea and substitute Gabriel Jesus put the ball into De Gea’s net in the 93rd minute, but was ruled offside.
The big talking point of the match was Marouaine Fellaini’s sending off for violent conduct against Aguero. A foul had been called on Fellaini for a challenge on Aguero. The Argentine striker appeared to say something to the Belgian, who then appeared to head-butt Aguero, who made the most of it and went down clutching his face. Fellaini had been shown a caution for the challenge, but match referee Martin Atkinson, who was standing right next to the pair, showed Fellaini a red. Fellaini has been a sore issue for United for many seasons. He’s had his good moments; most recently, heading down to Rashford to score the match-winner against Anderlecht last week. However, he is ill-disciplined (he picked up a red card against Everton in December, leading to Everton’s equaliser through the penalty he gave away) and many United supporters want him sold in the summer. He’s picked up a three match suspension, making life even more difficult for Mourinho, who already has a depleted squad to contend with.
The point has kept United within touching distance of the top four and Champions League football. Hosting Swansea at Old Trafford, therefore, seemed like a good opportunity to earn three points and jump into third, as Liverpool lost their match last weekend against Crystal Palace. To add to more problems for Mourinho, Tim Fosu-Mensah picked up a “serious” injury against City in the last action of the match, having only been brought on in the 90th minute. However, Juan Mata rejoined his team-mates on the bench after recovering from groin surgery quickly to help his team.
The visitors started off the game really aggressively. Within the opening seven or eight minutes, De Gea had to make two vital saves as his defence appeared open and disorganised. It didn’t take long, but Luke Shaw had to be taken off with an injury and replaced by Antonio Valencia, who was on the bench to be rested before the trip to Spain for a Europa League match. United finally found their footing, though still found Swansea difficult to deal with, who, in a relegation spot themselves, had it all to do. Chances were few and off-target, and it wasn’t until Marcus Rashford was brought down in the box that United were able to score through Wayne Rooney’s well-taken penalty.
Starting the second half with a lead, United looked more composed. Herrera found Rooney in acres of space but his shot hit Martial in the box and was blocked. Then, another huge blow as Eric Bailly picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Darmian. Martial had a shot deflected and Valencia had an effort saved by Fabianski, but a foul at the edge of De Gea’s area gave Gylfi Sigurdsson a chance to use his free-kick magic, which he duly converted to equalise in the 79th minute. Mkhitaryan replaced Rooney and United pushed for the final 10 minutes, but it ended all-square and United recorded yet another home draw in the Premier League. 10 home draws means 20 points dropped, and against mid-table or bottom half teams, United have dropped 16 of the 20 points. United would be level on points with Chelsea if they had won those games. Manchester City also drew their game against Middlesbrough 2:2 and Liverpool play Watford today, so the impact of this result waits to be seen.
Jose Mourinho has seven players who will not be able to travel to Spain for the Europa League semi-final match against Celta Vigo on Thursday. Smalling, Rojo, Shaw, Jones, Bailly, Ibrahimovic and Fosu-Mensah are all expected to be out. Pogba may be able to return in time, and with Mata back in the squad, that is good news. Fellaini can play that match because his ban is for domestic games only. However, United travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal on Sunday at 1600 GMT and that game could determine whether United finish top four or not. The focus against Celta will need to be perfect and in order to get to the final of the Europa League in Stockholm, United will need the squad to give everything it’s got. Only a few weeks left in the season. Come on, United!