Juventus vs Manchester United: A night to define Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba’s quality but not their season

For a fixture built-up as one of the biggest in Europe, between two of the continent’s biggest clubs, Jose Mourinho didn’t exactly get the briefing.

“Juventus is not a crucial match for us,” the Manchester United manager said ahead of his side’s match there. “I think, independent of the result, our next matches against Young Boys and Valencia are the matches that are going to define the qualification…”

Mourinho is of course correct, but that’s precisely why this match against a team who he described as a “super favourite” – and who so humbled United in a 1-0 victory two weeks – feels important for a host of other reasons. It might not be a defining week, as the Portuguese similarly argued ahead of Sunday’s derby with Manchester City, but a match against such a benchmark team could well point to how the side are developing; how “real” the results around that Old Trafford reverse to the Italians were.


Player ratings: Manchester United vs Juventus





1/22 David De Gea – 7

2/22 Ashley Young – 6

3/22 Chris Smalling – 5

4/22 Victor Lindelof – 7

5/22 Luke Shaw – 6

6/22 Nemanja Matic – 5

7/22 Juan Mata – 5

8/22 Paul Pogba – 6

9/22 Marcus Rashford – 6

10/22 Anthony Martial – 6

11/22 Romelu Lukaku – 5

12/22 Wojciech Szczęsny – 6

13/22 Joao Cancelo – 6

14/22 Leonardo Bonucci – 7

15/22 Giorgio Chiellini – 7

16/22 Alex Sandro – 6

17/22 Juan Cuadrado – 6

18/22 Rodrigo Bentancur – 6

19/22 Miralem Pjanic – 6

20/22 Blaise Matuidi – 6

21/22 Cristiano Ronaldo – 7

22/22 Paulo Dybala – 8

1/22 David De Gea – 7

2/22 Ashley Young – 6

3/22 Chris Smalling – 5

4/22 Victor Lindelof – 7

5/22 Luke Shaw – 6

6/22 Nemanja Matic – 5

7/22 Juan Mata – 5

8/22 Paul Pogba – 6

9/22 Marcus Rashford – 6

10/22 Anthony Martial – 6

11/22 Romelu Lukaku – 5

12/22 Wojciech Szczęsny – 6

13/22 Joao Cancelo – 6

14/22 Leonardo Bonucci – 7

15/22 Giorgio Chiellini – 7

16/22 Alex Sandro – 6

17/22 Juan Cuadrado – 6

18/22 Rodrigo Bentancur – 6

19/22 Miralem Pjanic – 6

20/22 Blaise Matuidi – 6

21/22 Cristiano Ronaldo – 7

22/22 Paulo Dybala – 8

For a start, can United actually put in a better showing against such a side, given how far off they looked in the first game? Can they actually start a game well, given they have gone behind in five of their last eight matches?

Can they finally offer a signature display in this competition under Mourinho or even a fully convincing display over 90 minutes?

Can Paul Pogba take command in such a game, and thereby fully energise an attack that still feels like it has so much more potential than it is showing?

The fact this is the French midfielder’s first match back at Juventus since leaving in 2016 meant there was even more focus on him, and he did admirably front up as United’s player for the pre-match press conference, just as former Old Trafford star Cristiano Ronaldo did for the Manchester game.

And that comparison only further concentrates the questions. The feeling remains that Pogba should start to become a match-winning Ronaldo-style star for United, properly taking control of games, with that only heightened because Juventus have gone on to greater heights as a club since he left. They’ve won three more titles, and got back in the final of the Champions League as they’ve evolved as a side. In other words, they haven’t missed Pogba. And it was put to him how he hasn’t yet lifted United to greater heights.

For his part, the 25-year-old admitted he has no regrets about that, and addressed a number of other obvious issues. He maintained he is entirely happy at United and to take instructions from Mourinho. So happy that he used some variation of the word eight times. 

Amid the obvious headlines from all of that and how he insisted he’s not bothered by the prospect of never again wearing the captain’s armband under Mourinho, though, there was one Pogba line that perhaps says a whole lot more about the actual state of United and their form.

He stated that the previous run of poor results, that brought the manager to the brink of the sack, was down to a complete lack of confidence. Pogba spoke of how the players rallied together, and there is a new optimism.

“I think it came from everyone. Everybody, we start realising we are Manchester United and obviously we have to play. Before that it was really bad. I think we didn’t have any confidence and stuff on the pitch. Altogether we didn’t give enough. After this game we went to the national teams, came back and played very well against Chelsea. Very good performance, the whole team played together. When you play together it’s always easier.”

And it’s easier when you build confidence. That is a big difference in the space of two weeks. United were still rather fragile before the first Juve game, even allowing for the 2-2 draw at Chelsea beforehand, but have since come through hard-fought wins over both Everton and Bournemouth. That will only increase that confidence, and embolden them, even if the displays in both of those last two victories displayed their performance level is still on something of a knife edge.

What is ultimately more reflective and “truer” of the team: the awful first half against Bournemouth, or the supreme response?

Another full match against a side like Juventus, with a bit more confidence, will start to tell. It may not be a defining week, but it could help define some of this side’s qualities – not least that of their star midfielder.

Follow the Independent Sport on Instagram here, for all of the best images, videos and stories from around the sporting world.

Source: Read Full Article