Hope is slowly turning into fear at Old Trafford. Fear that this season will be another filled with disappointment for all who love Manchester United, another season where the ABU (Anyone But United) crew get to point and laugh at the one-time trophy collecting machine, another season that promised so much but delivers so little.
Jose Mourinho speaks a lot about learning about his team. He and Manchester United fans around the world would have learned a few things again today.
No quick fix
Speak to most United fans who were excited about the appointment of Jose Mourinho and they will tell you, if being honest, that the main attraction was the quick fix that he offered to the club’s situation. After three seasons of disappointment that saw Manchester United go from title challengers to an average Premier league side, United fans and owners wanted an instant change of fortunes.
Jose Mourinho’s history suggested he was the kind of manager who, if given the resources, could transform the fortunes of a club overnight. He was a man who, his last season at Chelsea aside, guaranteed instant success. It was a chance United felt they had to take.
The purist choice would have been Ryan Giggs. He would not have done worse than David Moyes and Louis van Gaal had done in the last three seasons when he had been overlooked in their favour, but the thinking was the same as the one that cost him the job when van Gaal was appointed, why offer the job to a rookie when you have someone like Jose available for the job?
A couple of months in the season and the quick fix has not arrived. Manchester United bear more semblance to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea of last season than the side he led to the title a season earlier; a side prone to individual defensive mistakes and wasteful in front of goal.
Jose Mourinho himself bears the semblance on the touchline of a man haunted by his failings of the previous season, something he had never experienced before in his professional career.
All in all, the quick fix that had been hoped for is yet to happen. Instead, it is a marriage of wounded club and a wounded manager and a case of if or when they can help each other heal.
On current form, there are at least five teams in better shape than Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton are at the moment in better shape and look like better teams. If United are going to make top four, which has to be the minimum requirement, then a lot of work needs to be done.
Within United’s squad, there are enough players to build a team that can be in the top four of even this most competitive of seasons. But after spending the early games playing favourites and worrying about keeping everyone happy, the time has come for Jose Mourinho to decide what is the best formation and the best players to deliver this objective irrespective of reputation or relationship.
United need to get their act together if they are to recover from their early season stumble. What they do have in their favour is the fact that as a team they are not playing at their best yet, there is definitely more to come. Neither Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan nor Wayne Rooney are playing at their best level and Luke Shaw is still finding his way back from injury. When all these players click into full gear they would lift the quality of the team and improve results considerably. However, this needs to happen soon.
The United squad is dominated by players mentally scarred by their failure from previous seasons and a manager, despite his best protests, who is scarred from his failure at Chelsea. If results and performances do not improve, confidence will slip away and even bigger cracks would begin to appear which is the last thing United want this season.
At the heart of Manchester United’s woes this season is simply that they are not prolific enough. When you look at the games where points have been dropped, against Manchester City, Watford, Feyenoord and Stoke City, United have been wasteful and haven’t punished the opposition when they had them at their mercy.
Against Stoke today, United should have been out of sight by half time and against Manchester City, despite a poor first half performance they should have gone into the second half level. This is where they suffer in comparison to Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool. When these teams are on top, the score line more often than not reflects it.
While David De Gea would take the blame for the two points dropped today, the reality is that United’s profligacy in front of goal means results like this and the one against Feyenoord are always on the cards. Even in midweek against Zorya, the team struggled to score more than once against a vastly inferior opponent.
It is up to the United manager, players and coaching staff to rectify this. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and even Wayne Rooney, the team possesses enough goal scorers and creativity to blow most teams away.
Whatever the issue is that means this is not playing out on the pitch, it needs to be identified and resolved quickly.
Baily immense but what of the other two?
United spent money on three transfers this season (Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a free agent), in Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Paul Pogba. Of the three players, it’s fair to say the Ivorian defender was the one fans were least excited about. However he has proved the most successful so far. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been held back by injuries which played a part in his inefficient performance against Manchester City in his last outing and one can only imagine that once fully fit, he would replace Mata in the number 10 position and greatly improve United’s goal scoring situation.
United urgently need the Henrikh Mkhitaryan who shone last season for Borussia Dortmund to show up when he returns from injury and to deliver the same stats as he did last season at the Bundesliga side.
United also need Pogba to be the match winner he was signed to be. Most big money signings struggle at the start. Gareth Bale at Real Madrid and Neymar at Barcelona both started slowly but when they hit form, they did it to devastating effect. United will hope the same to be true for Pogba. In the dying minutes against Stoke, the French midfielder smashed the crossbar with a header that could have won the game for his side. If the ball had nestled in the back of the net, one can only imagine the effect it would have had on his confidence and his season going forward. As it is United are still waiting for lift off and hoping for the sake of the season it arrives sooner rather than later.