After a summer which saw a first FA Cup triumph in 12 years, the arrival of the ‘Special One’ and over £150 million spent in the window – including a world record fee for Paul Pogba – a dark cloud has moved over Old Trafford.
Now there’s a debacle over the future of the club captain, debate over the best line-up and panic after a resounding 4-0 loss at Chelsea. Business at Manchester United has been better.
In fact, Jose Mourinho has less points after nine games than Louis Van Gaal did last season and the same tally as David Moyes. This truly shows just how appalling a start to the season it’s been for Mourinho and United. Expectations of challenging, never-mind winning, the league were set with the transfers made, at this rate they’ll be fighting for the top four.
Last Sunday’s humiliation for Mourinho on his return to Stamford Bridge was the final straw as questions are starting to be asked of him, his team and the club. It wasn’t even the size of the defeat that was the issue, it was the manner of it.
Conceding inside 30 seconds, a number of defensive errors and lack of communication and the lethargic performance, all of which were epitomised by Paul Pogba. The pressures of having a world record fee over your head is tough to carry and he will come good eventually, but this doesn’t excuse his blatant laziness to attempt to track N’Golo Kante as he waltzed through to make it 4-0.
Working hard should be the minimum a footballer gives on a match-day; however, this wasn’t the case for the French dabber. There are deep-rooted issues within Manchester United.
Why would Jose Mourinho not make sure his team are drilled to the limit on the game-plan, positioning, marking ahead of facing not just a rival but the club who sacked him last season? It could be the squad or it could be behind the scenes but something isn’t right.
Looking at how they played at Anfield, it couldn’t be further from what was seen at Chelsea. They looked structured, a well drilled unit and went there with a plan. Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera were exceptional as was Fellaini.
Yet, Smalling had arguably his worst United game last weekend and Bailly has now suffered knee ligament damage and will be a crucial miss in future games. Bailly has been the stand-out signing for the Reds. Quick and strong, he is a true athlete and has commanded the backline alongside Smalling who has looked second-best to the new arrival.
Now he looks set to be out for a few months at least, Daley Blind seems the inevitable fill in with Smalling as Luke Shaw should be coming back into fullback. Yet, even if the defence can fix up and become steady, it’s in attack where concern has been over the last few weeks.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not scored since September, Marcus Rashford is constantly used as a winger whilst Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney are in and out of the side. The Swedish international began on fire but at his age and the pace of the division, everyone knew he couldn’t repeat it every week, so play Rashford down the middle!
The academy graduate has been the shining light of Old Trafford ever since he burst onto the scene at the back-end of last season. But he’s been deployed wide with the introduction of the Swede, but he could do with a rest.
As for the others, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has disappeared, not playing since the Manchester Derby. He was supposedly fit to play last week but wasn’t named in either squad to face Fenerbache or Chelsea. One of the best attacking midfielders in Europe last campaign with 11 goals and 15 assists in the Bundesliga, the Armenian has not even got going in a red shirt and is reportedly suffering from low confidence. You wouldn’t blame him if Mourinho is starting Fellaini over Juan Mata against Chelsea, never mind Mkhitaryan.
Meanwhile, the Wayne Rooney debate isn’t a talking point from the weekend, but I will say they desperately missed him at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho’s departure from Chelsea last season was high-profile, the squad seemed to turn against him and vice-versa as he claimed his players, “betrayed him”, in their loss at Leicester City, his final game before being axed.
This will have galvanised the Chelsea squad in the run-up to Sunday’s encounter as Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic played like they were possessed. But, with the comments of annoyance towards Antonio Conte at full-time, he never helps himself when you want to feel sorry for him.
To believe Conte was acting ‘disrespectfully’ by whipping the home fans up to out-sing the United fans, is hypocritical for a man who ran down the Millennium Stadium to ‘shh’ Liverpool fans when Chelsea scored in the Carlin Cup final.
Ultimately, I don’t believe Mourinho is the only problem and it is more than likely that United will come back and still have a strong season. Yet, this is not the same Mourinho who won the title just two years ago, the man motivation isn’t being seen, he’s getting tactically beaten and watching Manchester United on Sunday only screamed to me similar performances that Chelsea were putting on, last campaign.
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