Familiar problems resurfaced during Manchester United’s Super Cup performance in Skopje, as their players chased Real Madrid’s shadows to avoid dehydration in the balmy Balkans in scenes reminiscent of those European final surrenders to Barcelona.
What was more disconcerting than United’s inability to retain the ball was their worryingly woeful finishing. Paul Pogba shot when he should have passed on two occasions, he nodded straight at Keylor Navas when unmarked, Romelu Lukaku intercepted needlessly and blazed over while Marcus Rashford’s Welbeckitis returned in a one-on-one.
Rashford spurned a similar opportunity in an identical scenario at Chelsea in the FA Cup five months ago. United were trailing by a goal and he had just Thibaut Courtois to defeat yet finished mercifully at the Belgian.
There is only so long United can be patient with potential and Rashford has played for the seniors for almost 18 months, figured in five finals and played across the frontline. It took Ronald Koeman just three months to inform the then-22-year-old Ross Barkley, a gifted footballer who has hit a glass ceiling, he could no longer be regarded as a ‘young player’ and Jose Mourinho might have to get ruthless with Rashford sooner.
Mourinho bemoaned the lack of a ‘killer’ in the United squad last term and their shooting was not much better on Tuesday night than that man who bursts in and somehow misses Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction.
Despite his miss, Lukaku is not a problem. He joined the elect pantheon of goalscoring United debutants which features Tommy Taylor, Denis Law, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney, which should buoy his unshakeable self-belief. Lukaku has ample Premier League experience and has already displayed a knack for scoring while struggling. His strike-rate should more than offset the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose static style was often a hindrance.
Mourinho’s issue is there are no obvious players capable of scoring half as many goals as Lukaku. In United’s last title-winning campaign, Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney struck over half as many the 30-goal Robin van Persie and 20 players registered on the scoresheet. Last season, United tallied 17 and that figure is skewed by cameo efforts from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Josh Harrop.
Some United supporters are pinning their hopes on Paul Pogba emerging as the creative fulcrum but that is Glazernomic thinking. Look at Real Madrid; beyond their marvellous midfielders who dictated play in Macedonia they had Isco, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema ahead of them while their holder Casemiro finished finely having struck the Champions League final winner.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Asensio emerged off the bench and Kylian Mbappe might soon be in the Monaco departures’ lounge. United’s attack, top-heavy during Louis van Gaal’s maiden campaign, might be lopsided in the defence’s favour under Mourinho.
United have not ended their Ivan Perisic pursuit and the suggestion is they could make another attempt to prise him away from Milan this week. Still, Perisic would arrive without a proper pre-season with his new teammates, no experience of English football and with the pressure of transforming United from also-rans into title challengers. Mourinho has already admitted Victor Lindelof, who has had the benefit of a prolonged preparation, needs ‘more time’.
The attack requires stardust and United had hoped Antoine Griezmann would sprinkle it until the Court of Arbitration upheld Atletico Madrid’s transfer ban. One reason why United were unfussed about Griezmann’s rejection is they would prefer to spend a lavish fee on a more team-focused forward, like Gareth Bale. His and Mourinho’s public proclamations are unlikely to end United’s interest, particularly when both parties have privately expressed interest in collaborating.