After a painful loss in the Derby, Manchester United went to the Netherlands to start their UEFA Europa League campaign. Jose Mourinho had a flying start to the season and in his words could not wait for September to come so that he could give game time to his fringe players. He got his opportunity to hand out minutes, but United lost 1-0 to Feyenoord in dismal fashion. Had this been last season, there is only one person who would have carried the can. Louis van Gaal.
Mourinho wasn't the target of fans or pundits venom though. Marcus Rojo and Matteo Darmian seemed to get it in the neck most from fans, while Paul Pogba was in the firing line from pundits. Marcus Rashford and Morgan Schneiderlin's performances were also called into question and there was definitely a feeling of Deja Vu after the final whistle went in the De Kuip stadium.
Slow tempo a feature from last year
The lifeless, slow tempo was a fixture last season and whilst United haven't exactly pulled up any trees so far under Mourinho, in general the football has been a lot more interesting. Until Thursday. It is hard to pinpoint one thing that contributed to the defeat, but a lack of urgency was evident from the off. United allowed Feyenoord far too much time in possession and that set the tone.
Rashford was handed his first start, but the term 'lone striker' is most appropriate when discussing United forwards. He did work hard, he did chase the ball but nobody joined him in doing so. When United got the ball to the youngster he needed to go it alone, or hold the ball up for several seconds before a team mate offered anything. As a result, he lost possession on numerous occasions.
There was a lot of debate about whether the formation was 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 but whatever it was intended to be it was only Rashford in the forward areas. United won the first three league games and Anthony Martial and Juan Mata started them all. They were re-united after missing out in the Derby, but they were totally ineffective. Mata kept coming infield and both he and Martial were far too deep.
The three central midfielders should have been in their element. Schneiderlin should have been the insurance for Pogba and the industrious Ander Hererra to take opportunities to influence things further forward, but it never turned out that way and the central areas became too congested. With so little to aim for in the forward and wide areas, they pretty much got in each others way.
Rojo and Darmian were criticised, but United allowed Feyenoord to take the initiative and ultimately players will be exposed the more they are exposed. Going forward, they are full backs, not wingers. They shouldn't be expected to provide the width, yet pretty much that's what happened especially down the right.
Van Gaal hangover?
The full backs were two of five players making their first starts this season, and whilst that may have some bearing on the lacklustre display, it should not be an excuse. Despite being top of the Dutch Eridivisie, Feyenoord were nothing to write home about. Had United applied themselves, they should have ran out comfortable winners. So is this a van Gaal hangover for some players?
Is it that their confidence has been knocked so much that they can't recapture the form that got them to a move to United in the first place? Have they been so immersed in defensive tactics, that they can't free themselves of the shackles? If that is the case, they had better get their mental attitude right very quickly or they will be out of the door.
Pogba trying too hard
Mourinho likes his teams to be compact, but he admitted that he wanted United to push on more in the second half. They did, but not really convincingly. If Mourinho is openly giving players licence to take risks, then it appears there must be a mental block. Yet, as much as the van Gaal brigade failed to deliver, Pogba has rightly been scrutinised for his performances in the last two defeats. His performances cannot be attributed to van Gaal.
He looks a little like he is trying too hard to impress, and his price tag may just be at the back of his mind. He has shown wonderful skills on occasions, but he has has also tried to beat one too many too often or chose the wrong option. He has been caught out of position quite badly at times and looks like he needs some experience to help him right now. Michael Carrick is the obvious choice, but whisper it quietly and Bastian Schweinsteiger could also do just that.
What this last week has told us is that this season is not going to be easy. There was a lot to like about the opening three games, but these two defeats have shown that Mourinho doesn't have a magic wand. There have been some excellent signings, and it looks like United will be a lot closer to the top of the league than last year, but there is no guarantee.
If United regress into playing the slow, dour football that was a feature last year, then unfortunately Mourinho will have to carry the can. He has put his stamp on the squad with his signings and departures, and if there are some fragile minds from the players he inherited then it is his job to inject them with confidence. If he isn't able to, then he may find himself under the same scrutiny as his predecessor. That won't be van Gaal's fault.