Sunday 26 May 2019

Shambolic €68m duo sees Jose with no case for defence

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Sam Dean

For periods in this humiliation for Manchester United, it became hard to tell who at the club should feel the most embarrassment.

Should it be Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, the centre-back pairing who contrived to produce one of the most horrific defensive performances United fans have seen in years?

Or should it be Jose Mourinho, who spent the summer telling his defenders they were not good enough, and then watched from the sidelines as they were terrorised by Glenn Murray?

And what about Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, who ignored his manager's repeated warnings that they were in desperate need of a new defender?

Perhaps they can all share some of the blame for this meltdown, this messy accumulation of a summer of division and misery.

Rest assured, the incompetence of their centre-backs here will only serve to reignite the debates that have defined United's early season.

There can be no doubt over where Mourinho will feel the blame lies, and it will not be with himself.

The United manager spent his summer in a permanent state of grumble, complaining about the club's defensive weakness, and this was the sort of performance that proved him right.

Yet the truth remains that both Lindelof and Bailly were signed on Mourinho's watch, at great expense. Bailly cost £30m (€33.4m), lest we forget, and Lindelof arrived for £31m (€34.5m).

It is, therefore, easy to feel at least a small bit of sympathy for Woodward, who was clearly reluctant to throw yet more precious pennies at a position which has hardly been lacking investment in recent years.

That said, it is becoming increasingly hard to believe that the club, despite their manager's wishes, decided it was worth signing only a truly world-class defender such as Real Madrid's Raphael Varane.

We can safely assume those opinions would have changed now, because it is simply not possible to watch this first-half shambles and still believe that Varane is the only player in world football who could improve the United back line.

At times in the first half, it felt as if Bailly and Lindelof were competing against each other to see who could inflict the most spectacular piece of self-destruction.

Back in May, Mourinho was sitting in the same chair as on Sunday evening, in the same darkened room under the Amex, after another chastening defeat.

On that occasion, he went on the attack, indirectly tearing into the performances of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in what was, even by Mourinho's standards, a breathtaking tirade.

"Maybe now you will not ask me why A, B and C do not play so much," Mourinho said.

"People always ask: 'Why always Lukaku?' Well, now they know why always Lukaku, and why always this player and that player. We are probably not as good as people think we are individually."

This time he changed tack and turned on the media, saying: "Don't expect me to speak with you about (the game)."

Mourinho blamed the result on individual errors, but when asked to explain the team's attacking deficiencies he responded: "If I was in your position (the media), I think this game today would give me quite a lot of material to write about. But don't expect me to speak with you about it.

"Because you and your colleagues were really critical when in previous seasons I was probably too honest and too open in my analysing and I was too honest and too open in analysing about players' performances.


"So don't ask me to do what you criticised me so much for. Expect from me to be really happy to say after Leicester, A, B, C, D, an amazing performance, this and that. Don't expect me to go in the other direction."

Mourinho's tone was unwavering but he spoke quietly and wearily, like a man halfway along a journey for which he has long forgotten the destination.

This felt like more than just three lost points but a significant nadir in Mourinho's tenure at the club, a performance lacking attacking cohesion or any form of defensive steel on a day when the reigning champions crushed Huddersfield 6-1.

At one moment in the second half Mourinho bellowed at his stand-in captain, Paul Pogba, asking him to play quicker, while the midfielder made an exasperated gesture towards the options, or lack of options, ahead of him.

Afterwards Pogba admitted: "We lost and the attitude that we had today was that we deserved to win," Pogba said.

"The attitude that we had was not like we wanted to beat them. They had more anger than us and that showed on the pitch.

"I put myself first. My attitude wasn't right enough. It's a lesson for us." (© The Daily Telegraph.)

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