Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment: The reason why every bad result at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho feels as though it spells the end

Manchester's head coach Jose Mourinho gestures during a press conference, a day prior to the Champions League group stage group H soccer match between BSC Young Boys Bern and Manchester United, at the Stade de Suisse in Bern, Switzerland, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)
Manchester's head coach Jose Mourinho gestures during a press conference, a day prior to the Champions League group stage group H soccer match between BSC Young Boys Bern and Manchester United, at the Stade de Suisse in Bern, Switzerland, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)

Miguel Delaney

For anyone that was wondering why, this is the difference with Manchester United – and especially the difference with a post-Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United.

It’s never just one bad result, one day when they drop points. It can’t be, and especially not now. There are just too many issues around the club and it’s difficult not to put any problem in that wider context.

And so to Saturday’s 1-1 with Wolves. It wasn’t just a home draw, since the manner of it then drew a few supposed home truths from Paul Pogba.

“We are at home and we should play much better against Wolves,” the midfielder said. “When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack. That’s Old Trafford. We are here to attack. I think teams are scared when they see Man United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake today.”

And, as barely needs to be added, that is one mistake that Jose Mourinho is regularly accused of making with this club. One of the main criticisms is that his approach is too conservative.

The fact that Pogba did add words like “I can’t tell you because I’m a player” and “it’s not me” emphasises that the midfielder is well aware of this.

There are some around Old Trafford who believe that Pogba and Mourinho are effectively playing a game of PR now, both saying what they believe the fans want to hear. United sources say there remain fundamental issues between them, with some of those connected to the wider issues between ​Mourinho and the hierarchy from the summer.

The bottom line is that it didn’t take long for all of this to resurface. The good feeling from a run of three wins in a row in all competitions didn’t run all that far.

For that fight back, Mourinho does deserve some credit. It had looked after the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur that everything was ready to cave in; that all the pieces were in place for a ‘Mourinho season’ like 2015-16 at Chelsea.

But the response to that has already been far beyond what happened at Stamford Bridge in that calamitous campaign. Chelsea didn’t put successive league wins together once that season. United have already managed that.

He has illustrated that he can still get a response out of this squad, that there is still a core Mourinho resilience there.

The group may not be in thrall to him, and a minority may actively dislike him, but the connection is not fundamentally broken as it was with Chelsea.

One of the main problems at United, however, is that it feels like they’re always treading a line right now; that a balance is just about being maintained.

That is why the draw with Wolves was so relevant in this regard, and what followed. It doesn’t take much for everything to come up again.

Almost reflecting all of this is how it feels like it is going to take United to score the first goal in every game to prevent more problems. It’s as if they need it for their own confidence. They did look hugely suspect before hitting one on the break against Wolves.

Some of this also comes back to Pogba’s criticism.

United’s stats – and the lack of goals from the rest of the attackers like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez, Jessi Lingard and Juan Mata – show how reliant they are on playing through to Romelu Lukaku, in addition to set-pieces. Then there’s just the very feel of the play, and how tepid and unimaginative they are. It will inevitably mean there is more anxiety if they go behind, because there isn’t the same confidence they can open a team.

That higher-level attacking co-ordination is still missing. That essentially puts every game in the balance.

At the same time, if it’s fair for Pogba’s criticism to generally be said, it is maybe ill-advised for him to say it. This is where there is justified sympathy for Mourinho.

Pogba has some cheek to talk about attacking and assertiveness when it was his sloppy pass in the centre that gave away the goal. That’s not quite fronting up.

And this is the main problem with United on the pitch. They can’t make too many steps forward, without taking another back. There just isn’t the supreme focus of Liverpool, or gloriously sophisticated co-ordination of Manchester City. There are just complications, always ready to resurface with a bad result.

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