Monday 22 July 2019

'Depressingly bad' situation for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United only going to get worse


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Ian Walton/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Ian Walton/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

The description, from two senior figures in the Manchester United dressing-room, is that the mood there is "depressingly bad". And this was in the few days before the dismal defeat to West Ham.

The scene afterwards was naturally even worse, further feeding this cycle of bad results and escalating pressure to win the next game that comes from this wider cycle in Jose Mourinho's career.

No-one can now doubt this really is one of those seasons. No-one can doubt this now feels all in the balance, maybe the end game.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been resolutely against the idea of dismissing Mourinho, but some players are now saying they expect change at the end of the season anyway, and that one more year would be "tough".

Results may make all of that irrelevant, and force Woodward's hand. They are already dismal.

The best-paid squad in world football, and one expected to at least challenge for the title, has three defeats and a draw from seven games. That is 10 points, with 10 goals for and 12 against.

Even more conspicuously, it leaves Mourinho with just two points more than Chelsea at this stage in 2015-16.

It is also the same number of points that David Moyes had after seven games in 2013-14, making it United's joint-worst start since 1990 and joint third worst since the introduction of three points for a win. That should make the alarms grow louder.

All of this is also why the bad atmosphere - and then all of the bad results that follow - go way beyond the Paul Pogba situation, even if that is where Mourinho does deserve some sympathy.

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So much of that story, and how a player more valuable for his marketing output rather than his input on the pitch got in trouble for a social media post, are sorry symptoms of the modern Manchester United.

But elements of it, and so much else, are down to Mourinho's management and his struggles to adapt to the modern game. The Pogba story merely emphasised how, everywhere the Portuguese turns, there is another problem; and yet another problem that he doesn't know how to deal with.

As anyone who has followed Mourinho's career could have predicted, he does not have responses to things turning badly, and less so as the game evolves.

So it was after the League Cup elimination to Derby County on Tuesday, yet another tepid performance where United were shown how to play intense and proactive football by a side way beneath them.

Mourinho, just as at Chelsea in 2015-16, has been at a loss as to how to jolt his side out of this, so locked himself away with his staff for hours after that penalty shoot-out, trying to come up with something different tactically.

The 'solution' was this: a bizarre three-at-the-back with Scott McTominay, and a needlessly negative system against a Manuel Pellegrini team whose problems have been a high line, a porousness at the back, a lack of cohesion.

Why not go for West Ham? The approach - and the United teamsheet - emboldened the hosts, providing them with the cohesion they have lacked. And a team with so many six-footers still conceded from a set-piece.

Of course, we know why Mourinho didn't go for West Ham.

This is his default, his fundamental nature as a manager: an inherent defensiveness and a caution, in a modern game where attacking is more dominant than ever.

United's style is so out of step with the club's spirit and elite football in 2018, and has fed a situation where dressing-room sources say some of the team are almost afraid to play at Old Trafford. There is then the complete lack of any kind of modern attacking co-ordination, that might at least give them a framework, and build that confidence.

There is, most relevantly, the complete lack of connection between Mourinho and the squad, his hard-edged management ironically making this team so soft.

Alexis Sanchez never seemed like someone Mourinho needed in the first place but justifiably dropping the biggest earner in the Premier League just underlines their problems with recruitment.

Why now give him money if, for a crunch game, he drops his marquee January signing and new defensive midfielder in Fred before October?

With so many problems in the team and the club, it's hard to know where Mourinho finds a response. It is, in short, depressingly bad. (© Independent News Service)

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