The Mickey Mouse Treble dream is officially dead, as Manchester United crashed out of the FA Cup on Monday, in a disappointing loss away at Chelsea. Here are three things we learned.
Paul Pogba needs a rest.
This has been obvious for some time, but Monday’s loss should have made it clear as day that Pogba needs a breather. He was alright up until Ander Herrera’s sending off, but with United down to 10 men, he was mostly hopeless. While it’s true that Pogba already has several years of senior football under his belt, this season is a significant adjustment for him. A new team, a new league, and a manager who has never been believer in rotating his core players. Pogba has played every meaningful minute for United this season, and the physical toll on his game has begun to show.
The problem, as highlighted previously, is that United have a severe lack of midfield depth, which will now be further exacerbated by Herrera’s suspension for the next two league games. With the outcome of the tie still in the balance, Thursday’s second leg at home to FC Rostov is hardly an ideal time to give Pogba a rest either. Whatever the solution is, Jose Mourinho will have to figure it out, and soon. Pogba may have been underwhelming at times, but an injury to him now - and the chances of that happening increase as he continues to be overplayed - could derail the rest of the season. Dust off Bastian Schweinsteiger, hypnotize Marouane Fellaini into a competent footballer, maybe even give one of the youth playe-hahaha-okay, let’s not get too fanciful.
Marcos Rojo is now United’s best center back.
No, I can’t quite believe it either. Rojo, recently seen being disastrous at left-back in the League Cup final, has returned to his imperious earlier season form in the middle of the back line. The Argentine was arguably United’s outstanding performer at Stamford Bridge, successfully marshaling Diego Costa and generally looking unawed by either the occasion or the opposition. His distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s earned his place as the current first choice at center back.
The question of who should partner Rojo is currently up for debate. Chris Smalling has been particularly gormless lately, even by his own standards. Phil Jones performed respectably in his roving assignment, occasionally getting close enough to Eden Hazard to kick him, but it was only a few days ago that his doziness played a role in Rostov’s equalizer. Eric Bailly had a sub-par couple of games following his return from the African Cup of Nations, was dropped without explanation and has barely featured since.
Rotating an assortment of unacceptable defenders is no way to build a back line, but until better can be done in the summer, it has to be Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo plus two for the rest of the season.
Marcus Rashford deserves a run in the team.
Rashford is having a mixed second season, which was to be expected. But his hard-working performance at Chelsea was a reminder of just how good United’s young striker can be. The outlet of his speed and intelligent positioning gives United a very different type of spearhead compared to Zlatan Ibrahimović, and we will likely get a look at a much pacier attack in the next two league matches for which the Swede is suspended.
It would be a shame though, after Ibrahimović’s return, to see Rashford relegated again to the fringes. Ibrahimović’s goals have earned him the right to be first choice, but Rashford is again showing why he’s good enough to be at least be rotated in his preferred position.