Friday 22 February 2019

Manchester United to give Jose Mourinho time to arrest slump

 

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Reuters
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Reuters

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho has the immediate backing of Manchester United, with the club's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward determined to give the manager every opportunity to arrest the team's slump.

Woodward has no interest in making any knee-jerk reactions after United followed up their wretched 3-2 defeat by Brighton with Monday's 3-0 capitulation against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

Successive defeats - the first time United have lost two of their opening three matches since the inaugural Premier League campaign 26 years ago - have left United 13th in the table and already playing catch-up to title rivals Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Although Woodward and Mourinho had much-publicised differences of opinion over United's summer transfer targets, with the manager's desire to sign Tottenham centre-half Toby Alderweireld or Leicester's Harry Maguire ultimately vetoed, Woodward wants to make the situation work. As is commonplace on match-days, Woodward is understood to have visited the dressing room after the Spurs defeat, when a second-half defensive implosion allowed Lucas Moura to score twice after Harry Kane's opener. He and Mourinho are thought to have had a constructive conversation and Woodward believes the team's early-season troubles can be rectified.

Woodward is conscious that United's current predicament is fragile but there is confidence that trip to Burnley on Sunday will prompt a positive reaction. It is the final league game before the start of the first international break of the autumn.

Zinedine Zidane, the former France playmaker who is available after leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season, and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino, whom Spurs tied to a new five-year contract in May, have their admirers at Old Trafford but Mourinho's job is safe for now.

There was also a view that the team produced enough in the first half to suggest players are still pulling for Mourinho.

Mourinho's frequent public criticisms of players has seldom sat comfortably with United's top brass, who believe such complaints should be kept largely in-house.

Luke Shaw has come in for more public criticism than most so the sight of Mourinho striding on to the pitch and putting an arm around the England left-back and then later publicly congratulating the player on his performance is understood to have been well received.

Mourinho has previously questioned Shaw's commitment, focus and ambition and the defender reacted particularly badly to the manager hauling him off at half-time of the FA Cup win over Brighton last March, but there are clear signs of a thaw in relations. Shaw has started all three of United's matches this term and been one of the few solid performers.

"I was particularly pleased (with Shaw)," Mourinho said. "I told him you cannot play better than you did. Of course he is upset with the result, but the kid has to know that he has had three very good matches in the Premier League and today he was very good. I am very happy with him."

Bullying

The United hierarchy are hoping that, if Mourinho's relationship with Shaw, which appeared to have reached the point of no return last season amid accusations of bullying levelled at the manager, has been fixed, strained or damaged relationships with other players can also be resolved.

Whether that extends to Anthony Martial - one of four players alongside Eric Bailly, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira from the Brighton debacle who were omitted from the squad against Spurs - or Paul Pogba remains to be seen.

Mourinho has been on a collision course with both of the Frenchmen for some time. Pogba was poor again on Monday and the club's record £89m signing has been linked with a move to Spain.

Pogba, who had questioned United's "attitude" against Brighton, admitted it "won't be easy" for United to bounce back from their miserable start.

But the United midfielder said they could not afford to start panicking, despite claiming the players were at a loss to explain the Spurs defeat.

"We just have to bounce back," Pogba said. "It won't be easy, but it's just the start of the season. I prefer to start badly and end well than start well and finish badly.

"Even we don't understand what happened. We started the game really well. The first goal was a real blow, because we had the game in hand. It's bizarre. We were determined, we started well, and in the end we lost 3-0. It's a shock, but we have to keep going. We musn't worry. We are still Manchester United and we won't give up on anything." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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