Questions are mounting over the quality of José Mourinho’s tactics and leadership at Manchester United. Progress has been shown in the most minimal of manners, but a clear identity for his new side has been absent in the opening 17 games of the season.
Inconsistent sides breed inconsistent results
Almost a third of Mourinho’s first season at the helm of the Old Trafford club has passed, but still no regular starting XI has been established. One of the Portuguese’s key values as a manager in past roles has been to have such because inconsistent sides breed inconsistent results. That, something which Mourinho has always avoided, is what Manchester United are currently struggling with.
Fixtures are certainly coming thick and fast, with roughly one every three days since the last international break. Yet not even a spine of this United side can be seen to be in place. Injuries, too, provide a minor excuse for Mourinho but in a successful side, an obvious replacement would exist. Multiple players in this United side are playing three positions within a game, let alone from game to game, and it’s a further factor that is destroying any consistency in this faltering United side. Positional discipline has been thrown out of the window; Zlatan Ibrahimović the key offender of that, but others also floating across the pitch, a very obvious demonstration of the lack of a tactical plan.
What is more worrying, however, is the inconsistency in style. Mourinho has always been a manager with a focus on the short-term, something he has been both criticised and praised for over the last decade and a half. What has been shown this season, so far, is that a short-term fix is not a possibility for Manchester United. Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, no clear identity can be found at Old Trafford.
In this recent busy fixture list, United have attacked with immense speed and efficiency, defended resolutely, defended without any organisation or quality and played a possession game to no avail. Experimenting is okay, radically changing from game to game is not, particularly when results are not improving.
Mourinho needs to create a consistent starting line-up for United, a consistent style of football. Had a second poor run of results this season all been down to a certain formation, change would be called for and rightly so, as at his former-club Chelsea with Antonio Conte.
No regular fault with United’s poor performances
But these poor results do not follow a regular pattern. Some performances have seen an abundance of chances and poor finishing, others have seen an abundance of passes and no chances. There is no clear demonstration of what Mourinho is attempting to implement; the worrying thing is that it could be just be “to win”, and that is not what a faltering Manchester United need as a club, not just as a team. Elsewhere in the Premier League, managers are implementing their styles with speed and success, Conte at Chelsea, Guardiola at City. And that follows the impressive speed with which Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp bettered the fortunes of Spurs and Liverpool respectively.
Some United fans will argue that Klopp’s opening games at Liverpool were not scrutinised or criticised as with Mourinho despite terrible inconsistency. What was key, particularly for fans at Anfield, was the obvious signs of progress, something that is worryingly absent at Old Trafford.