Written by Matt Joy
Jose Mourinho’s inconsistent tenure as Manchester United manager hit a new low on Sunday with his United side losing 4-0 on his return to Stamford Bridge. Criticism of his style of play, his selection and his tactics have been rife ever since, but is it just Mourinho? Is there a deeper issue at Old Trafford? Have the issues that have seen three managers since Fergie’s departure not been sorted? Here’s my perspective.
The first issue I’d like to examine is the transfer business done by Mourinho, Ed Woodward et al over the summer. Now, despite it seeming the fashionable thing to do – I won’t be pinning all of the blame on Paul Pogba. For sure, Pogba hasn’t justified his world record fee so far. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but against Chelsea yet again large periods of the game definitely seemed to pass him by. However, simply saying that United have faltered and Pogba should be responsible to the extent some people are suggesting is ridiculous. Over the last few years, the issues have been clear for all to see. For me, the current selection of defenders at the club are simply not good enough for a club aiming to return to the top of the tree for the first time since 2013. Eric Bailly has looked like a solid acquisition, but having suffered what seems to be a serious injury in the weekend’s defeat, United’s defensive options look incredibly depleted yet again. For a club who invested nearly HALF A BILLION POUNDS since Alex Ferguson left the club, to be left with Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Marcus Rojo at the back is a disgrace. Blind for example always looks like he’s filling in and doing a job, but he’s not an out and out centre half. Valencia has adapted to the wing back role quite well, but again – having spent what United have spent, there should be a whole range of options at full back. Smalling had a tough game against Chelsea, but with Bailly’s injury seeming serious, it’s more than likely Smalling will have to play through the poor form. To invest in players like Mkhitaryan and seemingly freeze him out of the squad is more evidence of poor man-management, which leads me on to my next point.
credit Sean MacEntee
Transfer windows and United flexing their financial muscles have increasingly become more of a common occurrence. United’s business used to be shrewd improvements, with a few big named players if and when it was necessary. Nowadays however, United seem to believe they have a limitless amount of money. They may do, but this causes problems in itself. When you invest in players like Di Maria, Depay and now Mkhitaryan for high figures and then don’t play them, fans become frustrated. When fans become frustrated, it’s normally picked up by the media, who’ll also question why these big money players have been frozen out. Now, I appreciate Di Maria didn’t find his feet in the Premiership, and Depay has struggled, but surely it can’t be a coincidence that these players keep struggling? If I were Depay for example, I’d know that huge pressure would be on me to deliver – but I’m not given the chance because United will probably just buy another player (aka, Mkhitaryan.) This culture around the club will just further increase pressure on the players and managers from the media who expect money to equal success (which is a fair assumption, given what United have spent.) United need to be a lot more calculated with their spending, investing wisely as opposed to just throwing money at a range of players and then replacing them or freezing them out if they fail to deliver.
Lastly, tactically United have been rather questionable. People praised their defensive display against Liverpool, where they managed to keep them quiet for 90 minutes. Fair enough, perhaps they shouldn’t of needed to play for a 0-0 after spending so much in Summer, but a solid performance nevertheless. However, this structure and solidity completely capitulated within 30 seconds at Stamford Bridge, which set the tone for the afternoon. The tactical issues have been apparent throughout the season however. Ibrahimovic is all too often left isolated up top, Paul Pogba is moved around the midfield at will – the list goes on. It just simply doesn’t seem like Mourinho knows his best side. I’d like to see a 4-3-3 tried, with Fellaini or Carrick holding, Mata and Pogba playing more advanced, with Rashford and Martial providing width for Ibrahimovic (assuming Mkhitaryan isn’t getting a chance.) Mourinho simply doesn’t seem to know his team well enough yet – which he has to take the blame for.
How much blame does Mourinho have to take? Is criticism too harsh at this stage? Let us know your thoughts?
featured image by Aleksandr Osipov