It was another match day, another poor performance, points dropped again, a continuation of the team’s struggle this season and fans’ torture. Manchester United’s manager, Jose Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference that the period starting with the match against Crystal Palace was an opportunity for the team to start picking up points and start climbing up the table into the top four positions.
The last match before the international break, the Manchester derby exposed the stark reality of the gap that there is between the two Manchester clubs. It is painful to admit but the reality is that Manchester City is the superior team now in Manchester and England. For so long, City has been in United’s shadow but thanks largely to their newly found riches, they have emerged from United’s shadow and left them in the wake.
Everything around Manchester United seems to be wrong which is why United are struggling so badly on the pitch. The easiest and the first scapegoat in such cases will always be the manager so let’s start with him. Jose Mourinho has won the league title at every club he has been and has won as many trophies as Pep Guardiola yet looks very poor compared to his contemporaries. I have always been a fan of Mourinho and have been impressed with him from his time at Porto. I always felt that he was one of the best contenders to replace Sir Alex Ferguson when he retired. While I am glad that he finally found his way to United, it is going very badly for him now.
Generally, I feel it is unfair to say that Jose Mourinho is just a defensive manager. Analyzing his time at United, I feel that in his first season, United has played the best in all his 3 seasons at the club. United won 3 trophies and if luck and finishing were better, United could have done better in the Premier League as well. After a promising first season and a strong start in his second season, United started grinding out results. There were glimpses of good play and despite finishing the season trophyless, United finished in the highest position in the post-Sir Alex era, 2nd. However, United finished a whopping 19 points behind City last season and were runners-up in the FA Cup.
This season, the attacking play that has degenerated since last season has continued. The defense is leaking goals and it is uncharacteristic for a Jose Mourinho team to have such a poor defense. In short, nothing works in this United team. I am not sure what the team is working on in training sessions because it is not coming across on the pitch in matches. On defense, there is a lot of space for the opponents to attack and in the attack, when a player has the ball, he looks unsure on what to do next and the approach is labored.
Tactically, I know Jose Mourinho to be a tactically astute and flexible manager but here there is not even a Plan A that works. The only strategy that truly works is the long ball approach that goes completely against the tradition and culture of the club. It is fine to use it in desperation and the team has been very desperate at many times this season so it has been well-utilized. However, it not right that the team has been desperate so often. It could be that Mourinho is missing his long-time assistant Rui Faria but Mourinho is a big enough manager to take responsibility for failing to get the team to play well and win matches.
Mourinho’s hard-knock style of man management is also out of place in modern football. He used it very well to get results in his first spell at Chelsea and at Inter but it started to backfire when he was at Real Madrid and in his second spell at Chelsea. At both clubs, there were reports of falling out with the players and the performances on the pitch reflected the fallout. I am of the opinion that the dividends of his work at United with the younger members of the squad will be reaped by the manager after him. His work will instill a certain level of toughness and steel in their play and personality. However, in the short term, the modern player doesn’t necessarily respond well to this style of man management.
It is easy to let emotions get the better of fans to demand the sacking of Jose Mourinho with immediate effect but if that were to happen, realistically who is available to replace him that can ensure an improvement on the current form and performances at least in the mid to long term? No-one would have a magic wand to ensure an immediate improvement in the short term. However, this is a discussion for another day.