Jose Mourinho is arguably the most polarising figure in world football today. Despite his critics, he is also one of the most decorated managers. So, on 27th May 2016, when it was announced that Mourinho had been appointed as manager of Manchester United, fans were relatively optimistic of what the future held. However, after the defeat to Brighton, it appears that Mourinho’s infamous third-season meltdown is a real possibility – albeit without bearing much success in his first two seasons. While opinions remained divided amongst the United fan base, there are several reasons why I believe Mourinho is to blame for United’s poor showings in the past few seasons.
The Sanchez situation:
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about watching Manchester United is seeing Sanchez play left wing, trying to create from deep and losing the ball repeatedly. He’ll throw in some step-overs, cut inside and loft a hopeful cross in time and time again. In fact, I have only seen this ball work for Giroud’s scorpion kick and Pogba’s header vs City last season. Even Arsenal fans won’t be surprised to learn that Sanchez was dispossessed more times than Lingard, Martial and Rashford last season in the Premier League.
To stop United fans from tearing what’s left of their hair out, Sanchez should ultimately be at the end of chances rather than the beginning of them. This is why he is better suited to a central role as the focal point in United’s attack with a creative player behind him as we saw in pre-season (I know) and in Sanchez’s 25 goal season at Arsenal in 2016/17. His quick movement and anticipation in the box makes him a nightmare for opposition defenders and makes him infinitely more useful than being 60 yards from goal trying to shimmy away from a pressing midfielder.
At least with this kind of attacking role, United fans will be free from watching such a talented player be so wasteful in attacking phases. This, of course, would also mean that Lukaku would hit the bench in favour of Sanchez. But when you consider the fact that Lukaku was Mourinho’s second most selected outfield player last season, that probability doesn’t look very feasible.
In the Brighton game, Martial was deployed very wide on the left and was dealt with fairly comfortably by Montoya and Knockaert. I would’ve preferred to see Martial drift into the half spaces, as Mata occasionally did because Martial not as effective in such a wide position. Funnily enough, I feel that Martial would be more effective in the slightly deeper positions that Sanchez occupies on the left. But where Alexis would pop a hopeful ball in, Martial would drive at players, commit them, beat them and open up defences for either a shot or some quick link up play, which Martial does not mind at all. But of course, Mourinho has other ideas.
Sanchez was not even on the bench vs Brighton but despite his offensive inefficiencies, United still looked like they had no real offensive strategy (registering a meagre two shots in the whole second half with 72% possession) unless Fellaini is being brought on, which is embarrassing considering the quality United had on the pitch. No prizes for guessing who the common denominator is in all these issues.
United didn’t have many consistent positives last season, but their reasonable defensive record was one, having conceded only one more goal than City in the league. This is mainly due to David De Gea, but it seems that Mourinho’s third season debacle could even ruin that.
Bailly is an erratic, reactive defender bound to have either a shocking game or a masterclass (see his tackle on Iheanacho in the 61st minute vs Leicester and then his 47th min close call vs Brighton). Shaw strikes me as a confidence player, which I find hard to blame as Mourinho is feeding him more stick than carrot. Young puts a shift in, but sometimes he over-commits and leaves spaces behind him, as can be seen in Brighton’s first goal, and everyone knows United can do much better than him. Smalling and Jones are defensive accidents waiting to happen in the most fast-paced league in the world. United also sold their best defender, in my opinion, in Daley Blind. I could go on with Rojo and Darmian.
All of this, combined with Mourinho’s propensity to banish players after a bad game, creates a combustible and toxic atmosphere which could very well result in United’s key assets leaving the club with or even before him. For more on that, visit Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah.
Unlocking Pogba: Season 3
United are still in the yellow pages looking for a locksmith to unlock Paul Pogba. Jokes aside, I genuinely thought United went some way to solving this problem by pairing him with Fred and Andreas Pereira or Nemanja Matic. Only time will tell if Pogba will be liberated from his midfield shackles but I’m still hopeful.
Although it isn’t his main position, Pereira shows decent defensive discipline and awareness when he’s on the ball. I know that probably translates to most as ‘he can recycle the ball well’ but it could be worse, just ask Mr. House Keys AKA Xhaka. But in all seriousness, Pereira looks reasonably comfortable in a position which he has only recently adopted, in an unrelentingly quick league. His defensive frailties will be exposed on occasion but who better to coach him through that than Michael Carrick. It has been a while since United have had a deep-lying midfielder who is actually very comfortable on the ball and has an eye for a raking pass.
On Fred, he’s used to being the mobile anchor of midfield who starts the play and feeds the ball up the field to the likes of Pogba. So, I’m not expecting many eye-catching passes or shots from him in his midfield role. After the shaky performances at Brighton, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mourinho favours Matic over Pereira with Fred playing deepest for added experience and a physical presence as that was clearly lacking in the last game. Then again, we all know how much Mourinho loves to field Marouane Fellaini as a cheeky chaos factor.
On last week’s Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher said “Mourinho is a manager of today, not tomorrow”. How can I disagree when United were continuously linked with ageing players for significant fees with little to no resale value or potential?
Moreover, this highlights Mourinho’s inability to coach and craft young players in pursuit of ‘ready-made’ players who rarely excite the fans. If you’ve watched Mourinho at previous clubs, you will understand that his philosophy typically revolves around brainwashing his players à la the whole ‘run through a brick wall’ type mentality, which does not and will not work with his current crop of talent. Only time will tell how bad this ends for United and Mourinho, but it most likely will end badly. With Spurs to play on Monday, it will be interesting to see if and how United can bounce back.