Manchester United Have Lost Their Mojo

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Magnus somehow mustered up the courage to continue writing about football, taking a look at how United failed once again on the European stage. Maybe he won’t piss off half the world this time. But probably not.

For a while there, I really believed Manchester United were back amongst the best in
Europe. A flying start to the season both at home and abroad begat a belief that
United could challenge for the Premiership title and the Champions League trophy.

We see now that this is not the case. United have simply peaked early, playing some
admittedly wonderful football, but peaked early nonetheless. Whereas Chelsea have yet to play anything approaching their best level, United are only three points ahead of them in the table, having played their best football for years. Come Sunday, even that slight difference will most likely be gone.

The signs have been evident for a couple of weeks now. Early on in the season, we
were winning for fun, scoring goals at will and generally playing some amazing
football. Over the course of the past month, however, we have lost to Copenhagen and
now Celtic in the Champions League, and Southend in the league cup. None of these
are fatal blows in terms of our season, but it means we have one less trophy to
challenge for and a very difficult game against Benfica – déjà vu, anyone (?) – from
which we must get at least a point to qualify for the latter stages of the Champions
League. Not quite what we imagined just a month ago, when we had won our opening
three games of our group, was it?

Even more worryingly, however, our level of play has dropped significantly in the
Premiership as well. Seven wins in a row is by no means bad – it’s actually a great
run – but lately we’ve just been scraping by, relying on a moment of magic from
either Louis Saha or Wayne Rooney to win us the games. Gone are the early days of
the season when we were playing fluid and dynamic attacking football that made sure
our opponents were beaten within the first 20 minutes of the match. Instead, we’re
winning by 2-1 at Sheffield and 1-0 at Blackburn, as opposed to 4-0 at Bolton and
2-0 against Liverpool.

Against Celtic last night, we played well in the first half, but couldn’t seem to
finish them off. Especially Wayne Rooney was mesmerizing to watch in those opening
45 minutes, creating chances for Saha, Ronaldo, Giggs and the others at pleasure.
But then in the second half, as seems to happen so many times when Manchester United are involved, we made it difficult for ourselves. Instead of building on our momentum, we dropped our performance-level just enough to let Celtic back in the match, and were severely punished for it.

All credit to Celtic for making a fight of it, but United should have had this game
rapped up long before Nakamura was allowed to curl a wonderful free-kick into the
top corner. That we didn’t, does not bode well for the tough games that lie just

If the game against Chelsea on Sunday was a potential championship-decider before,
it has now become even more crucial than it was before last night’s game. United
must show that the Celtic game was a blip rather than symptomatic of a general loss
of form with a performance that stirs the emotions and leaves the spectators in no
doubt that United have what it takes to challenge the champions over the course of a
long Premiership season. If they can do that, and get a result against the Blues, I
will humbly retract all my doubts. I doubt that I will have to, though.

The Force is now well and truly gone. We’re not going to get easy wins at Bolton or
Charlton anymore. We must instead show that we can grind out results, even against
the best teams, until we rediscover our early-season form. That starts at Old
Trafford on Sunday at 4PM against Chelsea. Game on.

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