Manchester United failed to ease the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho with a goalless draw against Valencia in the Champions League at Old Trafford.
United, enduring their worst start to a league campaign for 29 years, started brightly, thanks mainly to the energy of recalled widemen Marcus Rashford and Alexis Sanchez.
However, as the Spanish side grew into the contest, the hosts became more ponderous and disjointed.
Indeed, Valencia had the better chances either side of half-time until United rediscovered the impetus and energised not only themselves but also the home crowd.
Rashford clipped the top of the bar with a free-kick, but the visitors hung on for a deserved draw that extended United’s winless run to four games.
United are second in Group H on four points, two behind leaders Juventus, who defeated Swiss side Young Boys 3-0 and will travel to Old Trafford on 23 October with Cristiano Ronaldo restored to their ranks.
Smiling Mourinho given no cheer
In the aftermath of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham, a result that left United 10th in the Premier League, Mourinho claimed to not be worried about his position.
But in his programme notes, the Portuguese did call for his players to “fight, work, compete, win duels, be humble and then at the end of the game every player must be exhausted because of the hard work they have given for the club, for the fans and for each other”.
If Mourinho really is feeling the heat, he showed little sign. Dressed all in black and chewing on gum, he smiled as he emerged from the tunnel, embracing visiting manager Marcelino and later doing the same with Michy Batshuayi as the on-loan Chelsea striker collected the ball to take a throw-in.
Mourinho was a fixture on the touchline, sharing words with Paul Pogba during a break a play and, later, prowling the technical area to urge his men on.
As time ran out and Rashford hit the woodwork, he returned to his seat. When the final whistle was blown and he offered a hand to Marcelino, Mourinho would have heard boos from some sections of a crowd that has not seen United win at home for almost two months.
Rashford bright in mixed United display
England international Rashford has not started for United since their opening Champions League win against Young Boys, while Sanchez was not involved at all against West Ham.
They were two of four changes and, in the early stages, posed problems down the flanks as United pressed high up the pitch.
The hosts, though, became nervy as Valencia gradually took control of the midfield. For long periods, the Spanish side carried a greater threat, particularly on the counter, while United took too long to move the ball forwards.
Just as the home crowd was beginning to get tetchy, and soon after a cry of “attack, attack, attack”, United started to threaten again.
Pogba had a free-kick palmed over by visiting goalkeeper Neto, the previously anonymous Romelu Lukaku began to make a nuisance of himself and Anthony Martial replaced Sanchez to a huge reception.
Predictably, it was Rashford who came closest, bending a free-kick on to the top of the bar after Martial was tripped on the edge of the penalty area.
The hosts scrambled as the final whistle loomed but, ultimately, did not have the guile to break down the organised visitors.
Determined Valencia deserve their point
Valencia, Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001, are enjoying something of a resurgence and are competing in Europe’s premier competition for the first time in three seasons.
However, they arrived at Old Trafford with only one win in seven La Liga games so far this term and were beaten by Juventus in the opening week of the Champions League.
Initially, they looked in danger of being overrun, but gradually grew into the contest and will leave Old Trafford knowing they had opportunities to earn victory.
The powerful Geoffrey Kondogbia was a dominant presence in midfield, the Frenchman not only shielding his defence but also propelling the Spaniards forward.
Goncalo Guedes buzzed around a United defence that often allowed their opponents too much space and should have done better when missing the target from the edge of the box, while Batshuayi also fired over when given a sight of goal.
Eventually, Valencia were forced backwards, but it would have been harsh on them had United found a winner.
Man of the match – Marcus Rashford
‘We don’t have the technical quality’ – what they said
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho: “The players tried. They raised the level of their efforts. They raised the level of their intensity in spite of the fact we don’t have many with that intensity. We don’t have the technical quality to build from the back.
“We tried to do something we did well, which was to stop a fast team on the counter-attack. We knew we wouldn’t create 20 chances. Our attacking players aren’t in their best moments of confidence and individual level.
“We thought with three or four chances we would score and win the game.”
Former Manchester United striker Dion Dublin on BBC Radio 5 live: “Looking at their body language, a few players aren’t playing for the manager.
“I hate to call out players, but it’s Manchester United, it’s a Champions League night, you’re at home against Valencia and you cannot put a performance in like that.
“I’m frustrated. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the balance and togetherness of this football club behind the scenes.”
Mourinho’s misery – the stats
- Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has gone four consecutive home games in all competitions without a win for the first time in his managerial career.
- Manchester United are winless in their past four games in all competitions at Old Trafford – their longest such run since December 2015 (under Louis van Gaal).
- This was just Valencia’s second draw in their past 18 group games in the Champions League (W8 D8), with the previous one coming back in November 2012 against Bayern Munich (1-1).
- Manchester United have faced Valencia on more occasions without losing than any other Champions League opponent (P7 W2 D5).
- Three of Manchester United’s past four games against Spanish opponents in the Champions League have finished 0-0 (previously against Real Sociedad in November 2013 and Sevilla in February 2018).
United welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford at 17:30 BST on Saturday in their final game before the international break. Their next Champions League fixture is at home to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus on 23 October.
Valencia meet Barcelona in La Liga on Sunday (19:45 BST) and travel to Swiss side Young Boys for their next Champions League assignment.