Jose Mourinho must not hide under past glory, he must deliver now
Manchester United slipped to an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur in the last game of matchday three. It is now two defeats in a row for Jose Mourinho's men after they lost 3-2 to Brighton & Hove Albion the weekend before. The start is less than ideal to United who had hoped to use their second place finish in the league last season to topple defending champions Man City. However, dropping six points in three games is not typical of a title winning side.
On paper, Man United have a squad good enough to win the league. In David de Gea, United have the best goalkeeper in world football, while Eric Bailey is one of the best no-nonsense centre backs in the league. If well coached, the United rearguard can be mean enough to avoid leaking goals. We have seen how the right coaching has transformed players from mediocre to world beaters.
Rafa Benitez inherited a Liverpool team that was known to leak goals for fun. But without adding a single defender, the Spaniard transformed Liverpool's approach to defending so much so that the once error prone Jamie Carragher was christened Carradona by the Liverpool supporters. There's definitely something wrong about the way Mourinho approaches coaching defenders these days, to the extent that David de Gea made more saves than any other keeper in the top six teams last season. That means that the defence did not offer enough protection to their goalkeeper. That was in sharp contrast to the old Mourinho whose Chelsea team was very protective of Petr Cech, who would have much fewer saves to make per game.
The midfield is littered with quality throughout. Nemanja Matic, Fred, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba. Those players are as good as any and can be more than a match for anyone in England. In Alexis Sanchez, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku, United boast potentially one of the most intimidating forward lines in the league. Mourinho's complaints about not having been supported by Ed Woodward and colleagues as much as he wanted may hold some water, but the fact that Monday night's conqueror's Spurs made not even one signing in the summer window, renders Mourinho's moans pointless.
The truth of the matter is that the Portuguese manager has not been good enough in his time at Old Trafford. He looks to have lost his mojo. The Mourinho of old was known for his utmost tactical acumen and defensive organisation. His teams would rarely concede goals. This is evidenced by his first season in England that saw Chelsea win the league title having conceded 15 goals in the process. There's a bit of a decline in the standards since then. In the first season in charge at United, his team conceded 29 goals and 28 in the next. That wasn't too bad as last season's champions let in one less.
One can argue that perhaps Mourinho's tactics are now, in the eyes of many, archaic and indeed unsuitable for a club of Man United's stature. Playing Ander Herrera at centre back remains as baffling as anything. Sitting back and letting the opposition take the initiative in games is a kick in the teeth to the club that is Manchester United. Big clubs must take it upon themselves to attack, entertain, score goals and win football matches. By employing defensive tactics, Mourinho has failed to get the best out of the attacking talent at his disposal. Lukaku is not scoring enough, Alexis Sanchez is clearly struggling, Anthony Martial looks disoriented and would be happy if he left United today. Pogba has tried in vain to engineer a move away from the club, while Rashford looks more likely to fail to fulfill his evident potential under Mourinho than the other way round. United's forward thinking players are clearly not happy with their manager's defensive antics.
By the evidence of the first half display against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday, United probably didn't deserve to lose the game. But football games are of two halves, not one. They looked clearly on top, created numerous chances but conspired to squander them. But it was the manner of their capitulation in the second half. After conceding the first goal to Harry Kane, United collapsed and looked completely lost. They lacked organization, with no sense of direction whatsoever. Sensing an opportunity, Spurs upped a gear and dominated proceedings from then on. United's performance in the second half summed up everything about Mourinho's team.
Truth be told, Mourinho has failed at Man United. He came in with a big reputation of having won a title in at least every second season at every big club he has managed. At United, that has already failed despite having the team to do it. I'm convinced the Old Trafford hierarchy are beginning to look elsewhere for a possible successor.
Last night, in defence of his performance, Mourinho demanded respect pointing to his trophy-ladden past as justification. As reported by Sky Sports, he retorted:
"Keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying. We lost last season here against Sevilla and were booed because we deserved it, because we were not good. Today the players left the pitch after losing at home and they were applauded because they deserved it. So keep trying. Do you know what the result was? Three-nil. Do you know what this means (holding up three fingers)? Three-nil but it also means three Premier Leagues and I won more alone than the other 19 managers together. Three for me and two for them."
He then got out of his chair repeating, "respect, respect, respect" before he stormed out of the press conference.
Yes, it's true that he has won three Premier League titles. It is also very true that he has had an illustrious managerial career. In fact it was because of that that he was hired by United chiefs. It is as well true that the same chiefs have so far been disappointed by what they have seen. That can be concluded from the frosty relationship with Ed Woodward and one can easily conclude that the refusal to buy his desired players was a move to frustrate him into a scenario that would result in his dismissal.
Mourinho is a winner, no doubt. But he has not won the title at United. He has got to prove himself all over again by showing that he still has it to win titles, or else, his days at Old Trafford looked more numbered than ever.