How did Manchester United cruise past Sunderland and why does Luke Shaw still look vulnerable?

Luke Edwards
The Telegraph

How did United cruise to victory over relegation certainties Sunderland?

This was precisely what Manchester United wanted ahead of their Europa League trip to Anderlecht, albeit against a Sunderland team that will almost certainly be playing in the Championship in August.

You will not get more pleasant spring weather in the North East and it was a comfortable afternoon all round for United, who maintained their excellent away form, as well as an interest in a top four finish with a degree of ease that undermined our claim to have the world’s most competitive league.

Sunderland tried their best – as they generally have done - but this was typical of their season. They can look a decent, tidy team, but as soon as they concede, they never look like getting back into it and have now gone more than 10 hours without a goal. They are surely doomed, ten points adrift at the bottom of the table.

United scored first, another touch of brilliance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who turned on the edge of the area and in one fluid movement curled a shot into the far corner.

Jose Mourinho’s side controlled the game as well as they needed to after that and the victory was virtually assured just before half time when Sunderland’s Seb Larsson was sent off. It looked a harsh decision, as Larsson appeared to be in control of the tackle and only caught Ander Herrera with his studs after kicking the ball away. Psychologically, it finished their hosts.

<span>Larsson was harsh to be sent off</span> <span>Credit: Getty images </span>
Larsson was harsh to be sent off Credit: Getty images

United scored a second goal early in the second half, Henrikh Mkhitaryan profiting from some awful defending from Lamine Kone and then tried to conserve energy, but still managed a late third through Marcus Rashford, who finished off a devastating counter attack to score his first league goal since September.

Why does Luke Shaw’s future at remain murky?

Shaw’s future remains a source of intrigue. On the one hand, he should be encouraged by the fact he is playing again under Jose Mourinho – this was his second Premier League start in a month having made none in the previous four. He'll feel as though he is getting his career back on track at Old Trafford. He did pretty well against Sunderland too so perhaps things are looking up.

On the other hand, there is a suspicion Shaw is only back in the team because United want to sell him. It is an old trick, one popular with Mourinho’s former mentor, Sir Bobby Robson. The best way to sell a player you don’t want - and maximise the fee - is to play them. If you constantly leave a player out, even if there is interest from other clubs, the buying team will be in a strong position to haggle and lower the asking price.

United paid £27m in the summer of 2014 for Shaw, a British record for a teenager. They might be one of the richest clubs in the world, but if United are going to sell him, they will want to get as much of that money back as possible. It would be terrible business if they do not.

When Shaw was being left out of squads by Mourinho over the winter, they would have been lucky to get a double figure bid because everyone knew the Portuguese did not rate the 21-year-old.

<span>Was Shaw only playing to be put in the shop window?</span> <span>Credit: Getty images </span>
Was Shaw only playing to be put in the shop window? Credit: Getty images

Now, nobody is quite sure. Shaw, who was called into the England squad last month despite his lack of game time at United, remains a highly-rated prospect and because he is playing for Mourinho again, clubs will be confused as to what an acceptable price is.

This plays into United’s hands. They can, quite reasonably insist, the defender is part of their plans and it will have to be a big enough offer to tempt them to risk letting him leave.

When Robson did this sort of thing, though, he also made sure he repeatedly praised the player in public, even if made him look ludicrously blinkered. It was all part of the bluff and it worked.

However, even after recalling him, Mourinho can still barely mutter a positive word about Shaw. It is either an elaborate motivational method for a young man who should still have plenty of room for improvement, or the Portuguese is not as good as the sale bluff as Robson used to be.

And what of Sunderland and Moyes?

This was supposed to be the start of a rebellion, when, according to social media, there would be loud protests against manager David Moyes and owner Ellis Short. There was no sound of them inside the stadium.

Moyes has failed to live up to expectations and there are those who argue the Scot has not shown enough fight, charisma or tactical knowledge to justify being told his job is safe, even if Sunderland are relegated. Yet, there also seems to be a general recognition that this mess is not his fault.

Can he really be blamed when the Black Cats have spent nine of their ten seasons in the top flight battling against relegation and the owner has been desperate to sell up for months while trying to drastically cut costs.

Sunderland vs Man Utd shots on goal

Sunderland supporters are frustrated, some of them are angry, but in the main they have remained loyal. There been no real appetite to turn on the manager either. It is questionable what that would achieve, given their fate looks sealed and the plan when they appointed Moyes was to end the constant managerial upheaval.

That will not lost forever, but for now, as bad as Sunderland have been, there is enough goodwill left for Moyes to be given the chance to rebuild in the Championship because that is, now, surely where they will be next season.

Man of the match

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has not been spared criticism from Mourinho, but the Armenian is vital to the evolution of this United team. He scored a fine goal and continues to outshine teammate Paul Pogba as a creative force.

Sunderland 0 - 2 Man Utd (Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 46 min)

What Sunderland need to do

Start preparing for trips to Burton Albion and Barnsley next season.

What Manchester United need to do

Recover and ready themselves for a trip to Belgium. United will be favourites to beat Anderlecht in the Europa League but neither game against them will be as easy as this was.

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