Manchester United Fail to Grab Top Spot in UCL Group After Loss to Valencia

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2018

Manchester United's English defender Phil Jones (L) challenges Valencia's Spanish forward Rodrigo Moreno during the UEFA Champions League group H football match between Valencia CF and Manchester United at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on December 12, 2018. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)
JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

Manchester United blew the chance to take top spot in Group H of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League after losing 2-1 at the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday night.

Carlos Soler scored in the first half and a Phil Jones own goal two minutes after the break kept United as runners-up on a night leaders Juventus surprisingly lost 2-1 away to Young Boys.

A late Marcus Rashford goal was scant consolation for a United side that had already qualified. However, missing out on the chance to finish top means the Red Devils will be concerned about getting a tough draw for the round of 16.

   

Pogba-United Divorce Can't Come Soon Enough

Paul Pogba didn't use a first start in three matches to remind Jose Mourinho and Manchester United of his worth. Instead, the struggling Frenchman only proved how his divorce from the Red Devils can't come soon enough.

Pogba didn't do enough to impress.
Pogba didn't do enough to impress.Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

Both club and player would benefit from parting ways, as soon as the January transfer window, based on how Pogba failed to get on track at the Mestalla.

The mercurial midfielder didn't get on the ball enough and couldn't keep possession or get United moving quickly. His nadir moment came when he contrived to miss from inches after Marouane Fellaini had headed down.

Although the offside flag was raised, even though Pogba appeared onside, it didn't spare his blushes from what was an inexplicable miss sure to bring a smile to the faces of his fiercest critics:

A tame shot into the hands of Valencia goalkeeper Domenech Jaume deep into the second half represented another missed opportunity for Pogba. The former Juve ace still couldn't exert control of possession or inspire United in the final third.

Such struggles have formed a familiar story for Pogba since he returned to Old Trafford for a then-world record £89 million back in 2016. Those issues still hamstring a United side designed to be built around the 25-year-old World Cup winner.

There's more than one explanation for Pogba's struggles, with former striker Michael Owen, now a pundit for BT Sport, identifying management as an obvious problem:

Whichever reason you favour, the signs all point one way. It's time for United to sound out potential suitors for a player who has too much talent to continue to flounder.

   

United Aren't Creative Enough for Lukaku

Pogba isn't the only big-money star who continues to struggle in a pedestrian United side. In fact, Pogba's problems are directly related to the struggles Lukaku is facing.

The striker had appeared to regain his form after scoring in two of his last three appearances. However, familiar problems resurfaced for the Belgium international in Spain.

Lukaku was at fault ahead of the build-up for Soler's opener:

While it's easy to criticise the former Everton star's play on the ball, the blame for Lukaku's inconsistencies lies elsewhere. Specifically, the fault is with a midfield woefully lacking in creativity.

There aren't enough passes being threaded between the lines for a striker who likes to spin in and out of the channels and use his pace to stretch defences:

Pogba has the vision and guile to see and play the passes, but his confidence has deteriorated to close to zero. His lack of daring in possession has been compounded by Fred's slow start to life at United.

Mourinho's £52 million summer import possesses the flair to create but has yet to find his range since swapping Shakhtar Donetsk for the Red Devils.

Juan Mata is intelligent and creative enough to keep Lukaku supplied with chances, but the Spaniard is bafflingly still not a regular starter on Mourinho's watch.

Without more conductors in the middle, United can forget about getting their £75 million striker firing on a regular basis. Lukaku has the pace, power and movement to deliver so much more, but he can't do it alone.

What's Next?

United are away to bitter rivals and Premier League leaders Liverpool on Sunday. Meanwhile, Valencia return to La Liga action with an away trip to Eibar on Saturday.

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