What’s gone wrong with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United?
Sunday’s defeat at Newcastle United highlighted more fundamental flaws with the Red Devils, who will be lucky to hold onto their top two slot much longer.
For the most part, football punditry is largely reactionary with a tendency to draw clear often hard-line opinions from situations which are temporary, displaying a failure to look beyond a run of form or, even worse, unable to look beyond the last result.
It could be pointed out that, despite defeat at St. James’ Park, Manchester United are still second in the table and making steady progress in both the FA Cup and the Champions League.
It is not unfair to say Anthony Martial could easily have scored a hat-trick and Alexis Sanchez’s failure to score into an empty net directly impacted on the result of the match.
Yet the Magpies were a side who had not won a home league game in eight, a run stretching back to October. A team who had managed to take just two points from 12 games against teams in the top half of the table. A team who are reasonably well-drilled yet who are lacking in the real quality required to make a big impact on a top league.
They are not the worst side in the league, but anything more than survival this season would be a bonus.
An embarrassment of riches
Despite all this, they managed to defeat a team who until the middle of December were within five points of Manchester City. A squad which is the third most expensively assembled in Europe, according to figures released this week by the Football Observatory.
The January addition of Sanchez is another signal of their ability to attract the league’s best players, yet they are not playing as a team and lack any real identity.
It is telling that once again the back four fielded by Mourinho were all players signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, while all have been at Old Trafford for seven years or more.
The starting full-backs – Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia – are converted wingers, while Phil Jones and Chris Smalling may be accomplished Premier League players yet have done little to convince they can play a starring role in a title campaign.
A lack of ruthlessness
Smalling’s deficiencies were exposed once more on Sunday. He was lucky to escape a major punishment in the first half when a needless foul inside his team’s penalty area was not punished appropriately by the officials.
His questionable decision making was exposed once more in the second half, this time decisively. A clear dive after carelessly losing the ball in an advanced position was correctly met with a yellow card and free-kick, from which the game’s only goal arrived.
The England international is a serial offender in poor decision-making at crucial moments, while defensive teammates Jones and Young are not immune from such criticism either.
Their continued selection hints at a lack of ruthlessness from a manager who became famed for his desire to win, often at all costs. Under-performance has not been tolerated under Mourinho yet his indecisiveness over strengthening his defence is telling.
It is fair to point out the long-term injury to Eric Bailly yet Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof – two young defenders who have shown great promise – could only make the bench on Sunday.
The match was the 30th away league match in which Manchester United had fallen behind since August 2014, with only 12 points and one win recovered from those losing positions.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson’s management, the Red Devils became famed for their late, decisive goals and rousing comebacks, yet the current side appear devoid of ideas and confidence when chasing a deficit.
It is a worrying trend whereby the first goal in a game is decisive for United. Mourinho perhaps lacks the coaching ability to crack disciplined defences with his strength instead based on opening the scoring, exploiting mistakes and in-game management.
These qualities are significantly diminished when falling behind, and unless these concerns are addressed, a title push may still be a long way off.
What do you think? Where is Jose Mourinho going wrong this season? Get in touch by commenting below.