“…United remain a disjointed side. They are light years from the relentless City machine built by Guardiola,” – Jamie Jackson, The Guardian
The English Premier League may only be entering its third weekend today, but for millions of Manchester United fans what they have seen in the two games so far played by their team is already enough to give them the jitters that they are in for another season of heartbreak.
Perhaps many of us are still stuck in time to the years of plenty under legendry Sir Alex Ferguson, and have refused to come to terms with would happen when the Scotsman finally bid Old Trafford farewell.
In the five years since he retired the Red Devils have floundered through two managers David Moyes and Louis van Gaal (Ryan Giggs was only in charge for four games) with neither of them coming anywhere near to bringing back the glory days to the Theatre of Dreams.
However, the arrival of the “Special One”, Jose Mourinho, two seasons ago, was meant to finally stop the slide and propel the team back to the pinnacle as was the case under Ferguson.
Even though from day one I had my reservations about the Portuguese coach being the right man for the Old Trafford hot seat, he did make me feel that I was perhaps too hasty in judging him when in his first season he won two trophies (the League Cup and Europa Cup) – albeit they failed to make any meaningful impact in the EPL, finishing sixth.
However, even though a look at the league table at the end of his second season shows that the team did improve by finishing second, the stats fail to show the true picture of how their campaign actually panned out.
Unlike Mourinho’s first season, the Red Devils failed to win any silverware and in finishing second were a massive 19 points behind their “noisy neighbours” Manchester City.
The team from the blue half of the city smashed 11 domestic league records in landing their first title under Pep Guardiola last season.
Some of the records demolished by City included: Biggest title-winning margin, earliest title success, most points, most goals, most wins, most consecutive wins, most away wins of the season, best goal difference, highest average possession, most passes and most consecutive Premier League Manager of the Month awards.
And in achieving this feat, the Spaniard once again showed that he is a much better tactician than his Portuguese counterpart in the way he has drastically improved the Citizens.
After ending his first season without a trophy, the former Barcelona coach told whoever cared to listen that his wards would soon imbibe his philosophy and come good – and that is what exactly happened last season.
They were justified winners playing very attractive and entertaining football that was a delight to watch.
And worryingly for the other teams City has just continued from where they stopped last season – out playing teams off the park.
On the other hand, instead of showing that they are ready to mount a more serious challenge this campaign the Red Devils have not looked anywhere near achieving such.
Even when they won their first match 2-1 against Leicester City United did not look totally convincing.
And last Sunday the chickens finally came home to roost, when Brighton & Hove Albion did the double over the 20-time league champions. Last year they won 1-0 and this time around it was 3-2 and they were deserved winners.
But perhaps more disturbingly for United fans was the fact that besides the whole team being poor; they never even showed the famous fighting spirit of old when teams were never comfortable with their lead until the referee’s final whistle sounded.
Even though the players have to shoulder a lot of the blame for the woeful performance the state of United now should also bring into focus the ability of Mourinho to get the best out of his players.
After two seasons one cannot readily point to a playing style for United and this is the manager’s portfolio.
Just before the Brighton game, Mourinho took offence to a City documentary released during the week titled: ‘All or Nothing’ which depicted United as a defensive side.
Mourinho told Sky Sports: “You can have a fantastic movie while respecting others.
“You don’t need to be disrespectful to have a fantastic movie. You can be a rich club and buy the best players in the world but you cannot buy class and they showed that clearly, that was really obvious.”
Yet for me the narrator hit the nail on the head. Although United surprised many last season, by coming from behind to win the return leg against City at the Etihad Stadium 3-2, they put up a truly forgettable performance in the first leg with fans unhappy that even at home Mourinho “parked the bus” clearly try to grind out a result! Unfortunately the tactic backfired as they still lost the game 2-1.
It was the same tactic he employed for games against the biggest rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur with United stifling game only working at Anfield, where they ground out a goalless draw.
Millions of fans are longing for the return to the old days when United rarely employed such negative tactics and instead preferred to try to outscore their opponents – whether at the Theatre of Dreams or on the road.
And disquieting for many of us is that even though the season is still very young, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea are playing decent football and all look like sides that will compete strongly for the title – the same cannot be said of Mourinho’s United.
Already a number of commentators are pointing to Mourinho’s well documented “third season blues” where the Portuguese handler usually suffers a meltdown as had happened at Chelsea, Porto and Real Madrid.
From the perspective of the public though, the United hierarchy is sticking with the former Madrid Manager, only time will tell for how long this will last should things fail to improve on the field of play.
Here I must point out that a number of bookies are not buying this and have already made the Portuguese the first EPL coach likely to lose his job this season!
However, writing in The Guardian, Jamie Jackson in an article titled: “How long can Manchester United be allowed to drift under José Mourinho?” he lays a lot of the blame on the United board.
“In Manchester United’s ongoing insipidness under José Mourinho a perfect storm of problems is found.
“The manager seems to have lost his mojo – momentarily, at least. An elite group of players are underperforming and failing to take on-field responsibility. And in the Glazers the club has near‑ anonymous proprietors whose preference for safety-first managers since Sir Alex Ferguson – Mourinho, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal – signals a muted ambition that aims for a Champions League berth rather than the title glory that might have them appointing an attack-first coach such as Pep Guardiola.”
Based on this you can understand why I believe United fans may be in for another season of misery!
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