Manchester United head into this evening’s EFL Cup clash with Northampton Town aiming to avoid a potential banana skin, and subsequently a fourth defeat on the trot. When the draw was announced last month, Jose Mourinho may well have been planning to field a weakened side at Sixfields but, after a week to forget at Old Trafford, the Portuguese boss will be keen to ensure his side return to winning ways against the League One outfit.
It is hard to believe, given recent events, that only two weeks ago Mourinho and his team were heading into the Manchester derby being heralded by almost everyone in the game as potential title challengers. They had won their first four games under the new manager and things appeared to be clicking into place, as supporters eagerly anticipated a return to competing at the top level, following three seasons of gross underachievement.
What has happened since was not in the script. A disappointing loss to Manchester City at Old Trafford was followed by a Europa League defeat at the hands of Feyenoord, before Walter Mazzarri’s Watford side heaped further misery on the Red Devils. Catastrophe? Not quite, but what exactly has caused this hat-trick of lacklustre performances from a team that hitherto looked as though they would be a force to contend with this season? Over the next few pages, we have suggested the primary reasons.
A paucity of creativity
Despite spending £115.3 million on attacking talent this summer, United have looked desperately lacking in creativity over the past three games. Prior to Marcus Rashford’s arrival as a substitute at Vicarage Road on Sunday, it was difficult to envisage how Mourinho’s side were going to score. They may have taken 15 shots, compared to Watford’s ten, but with just two of these being on target, it was a worrying reflection of an inability to create clear-cut chances.
It seems all too easy to criticise Wayne Rooney these days, but his performance at Watford was surely a signal to Mourinho that the England international is becoming a hindrance within the current playing system. He may have been the club’s highest assist provider last season with six, but too much of United’s build-up play seems to break down when Rooney is in possession.
He still has a crucial part to play within the team, but building a squad around a player that is past his peak is unwise and, at present, there are others who should be given a chance at number ten in place of him.
Juan Mata began the season well but has been left out of the side for the last two league games, whilst new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan is yet to be afforded a proper opportunity to stake his claim for the position. The Armenian topped the Bundesliga assist charts last term with 14, but is not believed to be fully fit and has therefore struggled to establish himself at United thus far.