Jose Mourinho six-month report card: How has the Man United manager dealt with Louis van Gaal's legacy?
Jose Mourinho celebrates six months in charge of Manchester United on Sunday, but how is he doing in tackling the club's problems? James Ducker looks at his progress here.
Jose Mourinho’s public criticism of players in his doomed final season at Chelsea has done little to discourage the Manchester United manager from openly rebuking members of the Old Trafford dressing room.
Mourinho suspected there was a mental fragility in the squad he inherited in May and his first six months at the helm have convinced him that the problems were more pronounced than he first thought. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard and Chris Smalling are among those Mourinho has criticised publicly.
Progress report: Adopting such an aggressive stance has been a risky approach but there have been signs in recent weeks of Mourinho eliciting the reaction he wants. He knows he has the staunch backing of the United board and is effectively sending a message to the hierarchy that some of the tools with which he currently has to work are not adequate to get the club back to where they want to be. Many fans accept that too many players have punched well below their weight.
Muddled transfer policy
A total of 55 senior players have come and gone in the seven transfer windows since Ferguson’s retirement. But the failures have outweighed the successes, with Mourinho of the view that too many recent purchases lack the qualities required and that he now needs to find replacements for the replacements.
The Portuguese has particular concerns about the state of the defence and believes the likes of Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian, whom Van Gaal signed at a combined cost of £29 million, are symptomatic of an underwhelming recruitment drive where millions of pounds have been wasted.
Mourinho plans to take an axe to the squad in the next two transfer windows, with as many as eight players likely to leave. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and Darmian may be the first out of the door in January.
Progress report: Mourinho’s marquee summer signing, Paul Pogba, is making strides after a disappointing start in the wake of his world record £89 move from Juventus and defender Eric Bailly, a £30.4 million recruit from Villarreal, was arguably United’s standout performer until a knee ligament injury ruled him out until Christmas.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has blown hot and cold but will stay a second year but the black mark against Mourinho has been his handling of Mkhitaryan, who will hope his impressive turn against Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday marks a fresh start after being largely frozen out since his £26.3 million move from Borussia Dortmund in July.
United’s injury record has been dire since the final seasons of Ferguson’s reign and Mourinho – who took pride at the relatively low injury rates at previous clubs – has been deeply concerned by the high incidence of problems, notably more avoidable muscle-related injuries, at Old Trafford and the crippling effect it can have.
Progress report: Mourinho has yet to stem the tide of injuries. According to Premier Injuries Ltd, only Sunderland have suffered more injuries than United’s 26 this term but the manager has ordered a detailed review of the medical set-up amid wider concerns about what he feels is a rather antiquated structure at the club. After the controversy sparked by the sacking of Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro, though, Mourinho knows he has to tread carefully.
Pedestrian playing style
Mourinho was shocked to discover just how indoctrinated in Van Gaal’s regimented ways some players had become, not least his full-backs, whose first instruction under the Dutchman was to pass inside to the centre-half.
Similarly, he encountered midfielders who had become accustomed to being told to stay behind the ball and were suffocating as a consequence of slow, passive build-up play and players who were afraid to shoot, having been told to take a touch before doing so by Van Gaal.
Progress report: Mourinho has given his full-backs, notably Antonio Valencia, much more licence to attack and others, such as midfielder Ander Herrera, are being far better utilised. United are averaging 12.2 shots per Premier League game, as opposed to just 7.7 last season, and they are starting to circulate the ball quicker and raise the tempo.
There have been more signs recently of a team emerging in Mourinho’s mould, even though initially it was hard to discern an identity but many problems persist. United, for a start, have lacked ruthlessness in front of goal in the league and Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who is so often marooned out wide, have proven much less effective than last season.
United lost 10 and won only half of their 38 league matches last season while scoring just 49 goals, by far their worst return in the Premier League era. In 10 games they failed to score. Old Trafford witnessed fewer goals than any other stadium in the division and only Watford, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion created less opportunities.
Arsenal created twice as many “big chances” – according to Opta – as United’s 44. United’s fifth place finish saw them miss out on the Champions League for the second time in three years.
Progress report: Results have been even worse this season, with United’s win percentage in the league down from 50 to 41.7 per cent, but Mourinho believes the table is misleading after six points were carelessly discarded against Stoke City, Burnley and Arsenal.
They trail Spurs in fifth by five points and league leaders Chelsea by nine points but Mourinho has cited his loss of a 10-point lead at the top during his last title winning season at Chelsea as evidence of how quickly advantages can be eroded.
United have to be more clinical. Their goals per game ratio is almost identical to last term but they are conceding an average of 1.2 goals per game compared to less than one per game on average last season. Mourinho has his work cut out to finish in the top four.