In many ways this was exactly the kind of fixture Manchester United needed. After the week from hell which culminated in a pathetic 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday, the visit of an under-performing Valencia to Old Trafford on Tuesday could have been hand-picked.
But their inability to create anything of any note in a tense and tepid 0-0 draw emphasised the state of things right now in M16. Paul Scholes claimed before kick-off that Jose Mourinho’s management of the club had reached “embarrassing” levels, and the events on the pitch will have done nothing to alleviate the pressure on the under-fire Portuguese.
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For the opening 10 minutes it looked like United were ready to throw everything at the cause, with their attacking tempo being high and their football smart. Yet that quickly evaporated and thereafter United’s performance was lacking in confidence, belief and creativity.
Aside from a couple of moments of individual intent from Marcus Rashford there were few signs that the home side were going to cause serious issues for a Valencia side boasting only one win in eight matches this season. United’s build-up was far too slow, far too predictable, and the result was a bore-fest for much of the night.
Things could easily have been worse for them, as Goncalo Guedes proved time and again to have the beating of Antonio Valencia but on almost every occasion he managed to waste the opportunity to cause United serious damage.
Right now United need to be much, much better than this. There are rifts in the camp, with the manager barely speaking to many of his players, and all the while the football has become as tedious as at any stage in the 55-year-old’s reign.
They needed more than anything to work up the supporters tonight, subsequently generating the kind of vociferous atmosphere which has dragged Manchester United kicking and screaming over the line in many a Champions League night for years gone by. But instead they sucked the life out of the whole occasion.
And that is exactly where we are with United at this moment in time. Mourinho is questioning his players’ desire at every turn, the players are questioning the manager’s tactics, and the rest of the world has been forced to pick a side. Add in the fact the game had to be delayed because United arrived late for a home game and the club’s slow slide into the realms of ridiculousness are there for all to see.
All the while, their football is every bit as anxious and uncertain as is every supporter of a red, white and black persuasion.
With the likes of Ryan Giggs, Denis Law and David Beckham in attendance this should have been a night to remind the United greats of some of the wonderful Old Trafford nights of yesteryear. Instead, every time they were caught on camera they looked as though they would rather be anywhere else, and their mood reflected that of the whole stadium. As a neutral it was hard not to feel embarrassed on their behalf given the turgid rubbish being served up in front of them.
There was a flicker of late drama when Rashford drove a left-wing free-kick onto the far corner of the Valencia woodwork, but like so many United performances of late they never really looked likely to grab a winner.
But neither did they really deserve one. When your football is too slow, your passing too indecisive and your every move carrying signs of nervousness, 0-0 draws are about the best you can hope for.
This mess is not about to end quickly, and could get far more embarrassing yet.