2021-22 SECOND HALF : WHO NEEDS DEFENSE?
The first half of the season would turn out to be an act the team couldn’t follow up on, at least not at the same level. Wins are wins, but the league started to figure out Mauricio Pochettino’s attack, using their aggressive attack against them. Despite allowing more goals against, it doesn’t matter if you give up a goal if you score four yourself.
MATCH(ES) OF THE SECOND HALF
Premier League (H) : Manchester United 10 - Burnley 0
The second to last game of the season, with the title locked up a long time ago, but Pochettino wasn’t going to pack up until the season was over. This game turned into an outright blood bath, and it ranks as one of the best games of the second half because it was such an impressive scoring performance that also helped Marcus Rashford in his chase of harry Kane.
The score isn’t that surprising if you know that Burnley had two men sent off; Ashley Barnes (38’) and James Garner (77’). The surprise came around the PoM and Rashford’s previous league game. Prior to those games Rashford was (6) goals back of Kane for the league lead, but a hat trick in the previous game and (4) in this game helped him pull (1) ahead to knock Kane of his f*cking perch. The oddity around the PoM was Rashford failing to win it, Ousmane Dembélé would steal it from him with (2) assists to go with his hat trick. The win would also set a new Premier League record for largest win, besting United’s own 9-0 win over Ipswich Town in 1995. This game would also be an omen of things to come...
Champions League (N) : PSG 5 - Manchester United 6
Yes, United had allowed a few more goals in the second half but nobody could have seen this game coming. Not once had Pochettino’s side allowed more than (2) goals, and everyone knew they could pile on the goals themselves. After beating up everyone else, United came into this game as heavy favorites against Ernesto Valverde’s side. The media had all but crowned them champions already, if that wasn’t bad enough the storylines for this game were just too much to resist. Playing against Paul Pogba, who left United to win the Champions League, could have fueled the media by itself for weeks.
At first, it looked like the media had it right. PSG looked lost under the constant pressure of United and their quick attack, it looked like this was going to be ugly for Valverde. It didn’t help when Jadon Sancho scored at 21’ with a gorgeous opening goal. Dembélé would feed Álvaro Odriozola with a cheeky heel pass who would send the ball into the box from the right sideline, 10 yards out from the top of the box, and Sancho slipped in behind Presnel Kimpembe with Héctor Bellerín helplessly trailing behind him to head the ball in. Florentino Luís would score at 24’, and then Sancho again at 28’, and then Dayot Upamecano off a corner at 34’. Up 4-0, the rout was on. PSG walked off the field with their heads down, they looked like they wanted to get on a bus back to Paris more than anything.
If their spirits seemed low at the half, things really got dark for PSG fans not long after the half. They appeared to stop the bleeding, but they couldn’t keep United out of their end of the field. Florentino Luís, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Bruno Fernandes were forming a triangle of death for PSG and it looked like nothing could stop them. Juan Bernat was unfortunate enough to knock a United corner into his own net at 57’ and Kimpembe copied him at 60’ to put United up 6-0 with just half an hour left to play. PSG were cooked, but to his credit Kylian Mbappé wasn’t giving up.
This started to turn against Pochettino not long after PSG seemed to be at their lowest, Christian Eriksen was left alone in the box and he broke the game open for PSG with a killer goal. Odriozola ended up knocking a PSG cross into his own net at 67’ and all of a sudden that 6-0 lead was only 6-2. Mbappé didn’t really have a reason to doubt his part in the game, he was making Harry Maguire look like a statue all game but the PSG attack was having trouble getting the ball to him regularly. Valverde made a bit of a switch and essentially decided to go Route One on United, betting that Mbappé could handle Maguire. That bet started to pay off. Over, and over, and over again. At 77’ Mbappé snuck past Maguire at the near post on a Bellerín cross from the end line to poke the ball away from him and make it 6-3. Then, almost comically, he would do the same thing again at 88’ on a nearly identical exchange with Bellerín to make it 6-4. PSG seemed to be on the cusp of the impossible, United was on the verge of giving up a 6-0 lead in less than half an hour and Mbappé seemed primed to make it happen. Pochettino should have taken Maguire off, or put Upamecano on him, but Mbappé just kept going back to the well. The game went into stoppage time and the win seemed safe until 90+5’ when Pogba threaded a ball through to, yes, Mbappé beating Maguire like a rented mule for a hat trick. PSG ran the ball back to midfield but couldn’t get enough of the ball to close it out and United won 6-5 in the ugliest way possible.
A nervous United hoisted the trophy to cap off a Quadruple, if you count the Community Shield. Pochettino was brought in to complete a task and he did it, albeit with some doubt right at the end. Banners are forever, and 6-5 wins after being up 6-0 at 60’ fade in the memory.
TAKE THAT ARSENAL!
Aside from the Champions League final, and a single loss across all competitions, United cruised through the 2021-22 with great ease. Not only did Pochettino snatch the Invincible title away from Arsenal, he did it by bettering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s record breaking 2020-21 season.
Perhaps it was an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of Solskjaer’s reign, or perhaps it was just what the squad was capable of, Pochettino did not approach the other big teams with caution. There was a balance created by that approach, like the 3-2 win over Liverpool after falling behind 1-0, but for the most part it resulted in solid wins that were rarely in doubt (Manchester City 4-0, Juventus 5-1, Spurs 2-0, Arsenal 3-1, and Chelsea 4-0). Pochettino’s second squad was also extremely reliable, though they were responsible for the only loss of the season with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. The loss didn’t eliminate them from the Cup, but they weren’t able to pull ahead in the second leg with 2-0 win and lost on penalties. Nobody came out and said it, but the Carabao Cup is not particularly important to the club so being eliminated didn’t have much impact on Pochettino’s job security. The Emirates Cup was another issue, after opening January with a 1-1 draw with Everton that forced a replay the second squad didn’t allow a single goal through the rest of the competition. Everton seemed excited about a replay, giving them a second chance to win, but United crushed them 4-0 at Old Trafford.
In terms of roster construction, very little changed outside of Victor Lindelöf’s relationship with Pochettino. Half a season of minor bust-ups, mostly around playing time and contract status, resulted in Lindelöf being demoted to the bench with Albin Elmander taking his starting spot in the second squad. This likely marks the end of his time at United after refusing a transfer last year, not the way anyone envisioned his time at Old Trafford ending.
It’s hard to break out anything as tipping the scales in one way or the other, Pochettino managed to put together such a broadly successful season it’s almost hard to see them repeating it. If they do, this may be the start of a great dynasty to rival Sir Alex Ferguson’s.
CARNEIRO’S CORNER : INJURY REPORT
Outside of the usual bumps and bruises that cost a few days Pochettino was pretty fortunate. The worst injury, in terms of time out, was youngster Luís Nazário breaking his collarbone in early January. The injury would knock him out for (5) weeks, exposing Pochettino to problems if Rashford or Marcus Greenwood missed significant time.
March and April would be United’s most injury riddled months. Jorge would hurt his knee in a collision during a game, also knocking out the guy he collided with, and have to sit out (4) weeks. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would join him for almost (2) weeks after twisting his ankle. Dembélé would assert himself as the Injury King with a (4) week stint in Carneiro’s office, a twisted ankle in a game against Reading would keep him out for most of April. Florentino Luís would be the last major injury, breaking a rib in practice late in April and knocking him out for (3) weeks. Luckily he was able to return in time for the Champions League final, turns out his absence might have been a serious problem.