Manchester United failed to bounce back in a satisfactory way from the weekend’s Manchester derby loss in the Europa League, slumping to a second defeat from as many games against Feyenoord.
The Dutch side looked comfortable as they took a 1-0 win at home to ensure United’s torrid away form in Europe continued, making it more than a year since United have won a game away from home in continental competition.
Manager Jose Mourinho made eight changes to the team that lost 2-1 to Manchester City last Saturday in a bid to give his fringe players more action, but still fielded a strong side that included the likes of David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial.
Morgan Schneiderlin, Marcus Rashford, Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo were among the players to get a proper run-out with mixed results.
Here are five key takeaways from Mourinho’s European debut with United.
ROJO, DARMIAN NOT UP TO SCRATCH
One big criticism of United’s play throughout the game on Thursday night was their lack of width going forward.
United struggled to get behind a packed Feyenoord defence and seemed to be constantly looking inside for space that just did not exist.
A big part of this came from the lack of courage and attacking intent from Rojo and Darmian.
With Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia proving such a massive part of Manchester United’s attack this season from left and right full-back respectively, their absence was massively noticeable and will not bode well for either Rojo or Darmian.
Their unwillingness to overlap the wingers in front of them and overload Feyenoord’s full-backs – despite United enjoying plenty of the ball – made life easy for the home defence and forced the likes of Martial and Mata to look inside for options.
Mourinho said it would be harsh to make big judgments on players after one game, but to be quite honest neither player has shown anything more than glimpses of quality in their United careers thus far.
If you had to guess how much Manchester United spent on Pogba based on the way he is playing, you would guess substantially higher than the £85million-plus figure spent.
And I do not mean that in a good way.
Pogba is playing like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Every time he gets the ball he seems to be looking for the killer pass, to take on three or four players or score the spectacular goal.
Being the world’s most expensive footballer must come with pressure, but the reality is that from midfield, United do not need Pogba to score a goal every game, dribble the whole field and set up goals from inside his own half.
When the opportunity is there to do any of those, we should expect Pogba to deliver, but he does not need to force the issue.
In his first game of the season against Bournemouth, everything came naturally to the Frenchman. Since then and in particular against Manchester City and now Feyenoord, almost everything has seemed forced.
Perhaps the best solution for the big-money man is just to play his natural game and forget the fee paid for his services. If he does that, United will definitely get value for money.
SCHNEIDERLIN AN ABLE REPLACEMENT
United’s other French midfielder had something of a mixed performance in his first full outing for United this season, but overall he can probably be pleased.
Personally, I think he should take a fair chunk of responsibility for Feyenoord’s winner – which takes away from the overall performance.
He was guilty of ball-watching when he got sucked into following the play down United’s left flank instead of holding the centre of the park, which Tony Vilhena exploited mercilessly as he drove into the vacated space to get on the end of a cut-back cross and finish superbly beyond the helpless De Gea.
But if we put that to the side, it’s fair to say Schneiderlin was pretty good.
He controlled the middle of the park, made a number of good interceptions and tackles and showed a better passing range than Marouane Fellaini.
All in all, a solid first game under Mourinho with just the one major blemish.
HERRERA THE BEST OF THE REST
Of the eight players coming into the team, no one staked their claim for regular first-team football as well as Herrera.
One of the most popular players at the club, Herrera showed tremendous industry and quality on the ball as he tried to carve open a packed Feyenoord defence.
Herrera had over 90 touches, completed 91 per cent of his 78 passes and was a constant thorn in the side of Feyenoord as he won six fouls.
If anyone coming into the team deserves to start against Watford, it is Herrera.
SQUAD DEPTH EXPOSED?
In the hype of the four quality, on paper at least, signings made by Mourinho, perhaps we have come to believe this United squad is a lot deeper than it actually is.
Thursday night’s performance against Feyenoord was certainly not the sort of horror show a 4-1 loss to MK Dons was under Louis van Gaal when he first gave many of his fringe players a chance to shine, but this was not a good performance.
As already mentioned, the squad depth at full-back – on both flanks – leaves plenty to be desired.
At this point, it would perhaps be better to blood our younger options in those positions when required like Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
In general, United are well covered in midfield between Pogba, Fellaini, Schneiderlin, Mata, Herrera and Michael Carrick.
At number 10, there is plenty of cover between Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the likes of Pogba and Mata who can push up.
There is no doubting the number of options, but there are question marks over the quality.