Apologies for the essay but, whether you read it or not, this is therapy for me.
United lifted their 44th trophy yesterday, a joint record for an English team which they now share with Liverpool. They owed their 3 - 2 victory, once again, mainly to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goals, as well as a bad refereeing decision and a stroke of luck.
Its already been a long season for United; we looked jaded yesterday and lacked cohesion in every area of the pitch, with little in the way of an effective game plan and we were lucky to beat a well organised and energetic Saints, who took the game to United and had a perfectly good Gabbiadini goal chalked off for offside; in truth they were by far the better team for the majority of the game yesterday and they will be feeling gutted, along with their very vocal support, at not lifting what would have been only their second trophy in their 131 year history.
A win is a win and its always nice to lift trophies (though you wouldn't know it judging by Mourinho's body language and very muted post match response yesterday) However, me being me, and, not for the first time this season, I have to question Mourinho's tactics yesterday.
To set up in a 4-2-3-1 facing a rested, energetic and disciplined Saints side without Mhkitaryan available to link the attack and midfield on the vast, energy sapping Wembley pitch was a rather obvious error of judgement; to add to that Pogba was played in a two man midfield and, once again, all too predictably under the circumstances, he failed to take control in a big match.
Once again Mata, the obvious alternative to play no 10 in Mhkitaryan's absence, was deployed in a less effective position and, after a first half spent chasing shadows on the right, was made a scapegoat and predictably got hooked (yet again) by Mourinho.
Pogba played far too deep and the massive gap between Zlatan and the midfield was all too evident throughout the match. United were on the back foot for most of the game and struggled against Redmond's speed and energy, Romelu's power and the superb delivery of Ward-Prowse throughout the 90 minutes. The brilliant movement and finishing of Gabbiadini made our panicking and disjointed defence look distinctly second division; he is already looking like one of the bargains of the season after just a few games and, given his goal threat, I was very surprised (and happy) to see Peull take him off. However, of the two mangers, he undoubtedly got (most of) his tactics right on the day.
As I've said before, I'm not convinced by Mourinho; he is definitely an upgrade on Moyes and Van Gaal and will probably bring United temporary success but his methods, approach, ego, personailty, quixotic nature and strange decision making will take their toll and aren't suited to planning and sustaining long term success in what is the most demanding and unforgiving league in football.
Some commentators have praised Mourinho for the way he has brought the best out of Mhkitaryan and Martial by being hard on them and challenging them to fight for the right to play, but that tactic obviously hasn't worked with our best left back, and former Saint, Luke Shaw; once an England regular, he continues to rot in the reserves while lesser players are constantly rotated in his position and his international career recedes in the distance.
Rojo was dreadful yesterday; and, as slow as he is, Blind is a far better player than both the Argentinian and Darmian and would surely have offered more to the team in terms of positional and tactical awareness, organisational skills, vision and passing ability. Even the under employed but more experienced Young would have been a better choice (than Rojo) but Jose does like his "specialists."
Valencia has been our most consistent defender by miles this season, and by far our best attacking defender, which isn't so hard to fathom when Mourinho bans the left back from venturing too far forward. This tactic might make sense IF we had a good, defensive left back but it also impacts on our relative lack of goals and over reliance on Ibrahimovic; Martial is always being double marked and would really benefit from having an overlapping left back like Shaw draw the opposition right back away from him. No doubt Ibrahimovic would also benefit from Shaw's crosses.
On the other flank Valencia continues to pose a consistant threat going forward whilst defending well but we have nobody apart from Young who is comfortable and effective driving inside off the wing. Every other player that JM deploys there is playing out of position and is often unproductive and ineffectual.
Keeping a fit Mhkitaryan at no 10 is the key as he links everything so well and dovetails particularly well with Mata who was utterly wasted on the right yesterday. If United do get hold of Griezmann he could make the position his own until Zlatan moves on.
Going back to the defence; we have a decent defensive record in domestic competition but its not fit to face Champions League quality opposition and needs upgrading.
Its clear that Smalling often needs organising himself and really isn't up to instructing Rojo or bossing a young, inexperienced and impetuous Bailly, let alone being United captain. As for the headless chicken way in which Pogba marks in the box, he is a penalty waiting to happen and should be shackled to the post by de Gea.
Fatigue aside, Mhkitaryan could have made a big difference yesterday but Pogba cannot be trusted to boss games yet in his absence. United need a powerful box to box player who can carry the ball at speed like Nathan Redmond, doesn't go missing and can tackle.
Much has been made of the vast sums of money United have spent since SAF retired but if a team with the budget of Southampton can expose them then I'm afraid more will have to be spent on up to half a dozen more players if United want to be truely competitive at the highest level. Carrick, Schweinsteiger and Rooney are all likely to leave in the summer; that is a huge amount of experience to lose in one go and Ibrahimovic may well decide to seek pastures new if United fail to qualify for the Champions league and don't strengthen the squad sufficiently to compete next season.
So for Mourinho to repeat Woodward's assertion that United will keep the vast majority of the current squad and bring in only 2 - 3 new players doesn't auger very well for next season