ROTTERDAM: “If you don’t play on this surface, go home,” Jose Mourinho had declared before kick-off as the Manchester United manager gushed about the quality of the pitch at the De Kuip stadium.
Unfortunately for Mourinho, his players fluffed their lines for the second time in six days, Feyenoord sending United packing a year to the day since they also lost on Dutch soil, to PSV Eindhoven.
Mourinho had admitted beforehand that United risked embarrassment if they failed to approach the game with the right attitude, and that is what materialised. This was most certainly not what the Portuguese had in mind so soon after the derby defeat to Manchester City.
While Feyenoord basked in the warm glow of a memorable win and two former Liverpool players, Brad Jones and Dirk Kuyt, celebrated as hard as anyone while “You’ll Never Walk Alone” reverberated around the ground, Mourinho trudged to the tunnel, pausing only to hold a hand out to the 1,200 United fans who had made the trip to Rotterdam, almost in apology at the limp nature of his team’s performance.
After an encouraging start at United, successive defeats have raised questions for Mourinho, who felt his team lacked ambition and admitted there would no quick fixes and that confidence was low.
“When we won the Community Shield and the first three Premier League matches I was not on the moon, I was not saying we were a phenomenal team and we are going to destroy every opponent,” he said. “I said, yes, it’s a very good start, but I was never on the moon.
“I know the situation is not a case of clicking your fingers and everything is perfect. We didn’t play phenomenal matches in these two defeats, but to lose both I think is a punishment for the team because I think we deserved more.
“When you lose matches, there are no miracles in terms of the players’ soul. You win matches, people are happy and full of confidence. You lose matches and people are sad and feel it.”
Feyenoord are no Manchester City but United made them look so better than they were. Paul Pogba was again underwhelming, the pounds 89?million man outshone by Karim El Ahmadi and goalscorer Tonny Vilhena in midfield.
Marcos Rojo was a liability at left-back and Anthony Martial looked cowed in attack along with Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata, all of whom were replaced in the second half when Mourinho stuck centre-half Chris Smalling upfront in a final throw of the dice.
Mourinho was looking for two things here. Firstly, a reaction to the derby defeat and, secondly, for those players who have been on the periphery so far this season to take the opportunity afforded them.
Neither happened. Only David De Gea, Eric Bailly and Pogba kept their place from the City game as Mourinho made eight changes and handed first starts of the campaign to five players, but it was a patchy and incoherent performance that involved too many cheap turnovers. United looked short of ideas, their movement stilted, too many players off the pace or lacking conviction.
“I think in the first-half we did not have an especially ambitious attitude,” Mourinho said. “I’m not saying bad, but I’m not saying with the ambition you need to win football matches.”
When El Ahmadi released Terence Kongolo down the left after riding Ander Herrera’s challenge in the 41st minute, the ease with which the Feyenoord left-back cut inside Matteo Darmian and rolled a pass across the edge of the penalty area to Jens Toornstra was alarming. United were fortunate Toornstra’s wild first-time shot sailed over.
Rojo’s only contribution of note was to send over a cross that Rashford was a fraction too late meeting, but, otherwise, this was a typically haphazard performance from the Argentina left-back. He was way upfield when Nicolai Jorgensen was released down the right 11 minutes from time.
The Feyenoord striker should have been ruled offside but it was not spotted and he was able to get in behind Smalling and square for Vilhena who, surging forward from midfield, drilled the ball home.
Feyenoord were tidy and assured, and their build-up play was good at times, but they were largely toothless in attack and even a below-par United should be dispatching teams such as this. Pogba was peripheral, failing to dominate the midfield and barely making his presence felt.
In the 64th minute United’s front three was withdrawn, Rashford, the ineffectual Martial and Mata replaced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Memphis Depay and Ashley Young.
Depay was hopeless, floating a free-kick from a dangerous position into the stands and sending a hash of a volley there, too. Young hacked wide and Ibrahimovic had a free-kick smothered but Feyenoord hardly had to withstand a siege.
This was United’s fourth consecutive away defeat in Europe after losses to Liverpool, Midtjylland and Wolfsburg, and Mourinho needs to return to winning ways at Watford on Sunday. “We go back to a normal team, obviously without so many changes,” Mourinho said, bluntly. That alone said enough.