Man United's dismal away form continues with 2-1 loss at Fenerbahce
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Three points from Sukru Saracoglu Stadium as Fenerbahce stunned Manchester United 2-1 in their Europa League clash.
1. Man United extend their dismal away run of results
Manchester United's wretched European away form continued as Fenerbahçe scored two magnificent goals against them without reply in Istanbul. The 1,200 travelling United fans present for the Europa League match have now seen their side lose seven and draw one of their last eight matches on the continent. After Thursday's 2-1 defeat, United slump to third in Group A with two games to play.
Fenerbahçe started the night two points behind a United side who defeated them 4-1 two weeks ago in Manchester but the hosts got off to the perfect start in the second minute when full-back Hasan Ali Kalirim crossed from the left towards Moussa Sow, who started ahead of Robin van Persie. The experienced Senegal international is on loan from Emirati side Al Ahli.
Sow waited between Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind for the ball but didn't even look around as he produced a spectacular overhead kick that beat David de Gea from 18 yards out. His second goal of the season was a sublime strike that he'll do well to better. On the sidelines, Sow's 69-year-old manager, Dick Advocaat, celebrated vigorously by his bench as the Surku Saracoglu stadium burst into an even louder ear-piercing din.
With a seven-game unbeaten run at home in the Europa League and far more confidence in Istanbul than away, the Turkish side caught the mood of their fans early on as they began with intent. With a goal advantage, the well-organised home side were happy to sit off United and let them have possession in front of their defence, quickly counter attacking in numbers where possible in a noise so loud it could be heard in a different continent. Well, the European side of Istanbul is only three kilometres away on the other side of the Bosphorus.
One such attack came in the 25th minute but Jeremain Lens headed narrowly wide. Lens attempted a spectacular bicycle kick four minutes later that Sow would have been proud of. The 30-year-old Sow was always a danger, more mobile than Van Persie had been as Old Trafford as he stretched United's defence. Not for nothing, delirious fans were singing his name after both halves.
Lens would have his moment, too: his 59th minute curling free kick left David de Gea cold for the increasingly confident Turkish side's second goal.
2. A case of missed opportunities for United?
United were again insipid on their travels but they did have chances to get back in the game. The best fell to Wayne Rooney, making a rare start as United's centre-forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. A 20th minute ball from Anthony Martial left Rooney with only the goalkeeper to beat from the edge of the area. The United captain took a heavy touch -- almost as if he waited for the offside flag to be shown -- but was onside and lost the impetus, allowing former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel to recover and win the ball back.
Rooney didn't last long in that position. When Paul Pogba limped off after 30 minutes to add to his side's injury concerns, his replacement Zlatan Ibrahimovic moved up as the main striker, with Rooney dropping deeper. The change livened United up though Ibrahimovic, who'd scored only one goal in ten games after five in his first six, was quickly irked. His anger was evident, which in turn attracted boos whenever he touched the ball. The Swede's foul on Mehmet Topal would lead to the fizzing free-kick that gave Fenerbahce their 2-0 lead.
Rooney did score a superb 88th minute effort from distance to draw level with Ruud van Nistelrooy's club record of 38 European goals but it was too little too late. United rarely troubled Fenerbahce. Though full-back Matteo Darmain found space on the right to support the forwards, Luke Shaw seldom did likewise on the opposite side as a narrow United formation was kept away from the hosts' goal.
Jose Mourinho, who cut a forlorn figure on the touchline, is taking the Europa League seriously given the access into next season's Champions League afforded to the winners, but his side have failed to score in the first half in seven of the last eight games in all competitions. It's the type of statistic more readily associated with Louis van Gaal than what fans expected from Mourinho.
3. Mourinho has great players, not a great team
In-form Ander Herrera's tenaciousness is an asset but it does come at a cost. He was unfortunate to be sent off after slipping to earn a second yellow card against Burnley on Saturday, which means he'll miss Sunday's Premier League game at Swansea, but his 18th minute yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Fenerbahce's Brazilian midfielder, Souza, put his side at risk, especially as it followed a yellow for his midfield foil Morgan Schneiderlin six minutes earlier.
Fenerbahce's players invited the aggression and were happy to get in the faces of the United players to unsettle them, none of which helped United's cause. United should be able to deal with it and Ibrahimovic could have expected to be riled by the less talented but always aggressive Skrtel. When the Swede struck a 71st minute free kick into the Fenerbahce wall, it summed up United's evening as their form continues to concern fans.
United are enjoying possession but failing to win games. They're consistently being outclassed by inferior players from rival teams. United have some great players but look far from a great team. A bit like last season, then, and the two seasons before that.
There are many questions about United's form, but too few answers.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitten.