Pogba and United fall flat as Mourinho's men fail to muster response
When Jose Mourinho questioned his players' desire following a chastening 3-1 defeat at West Ham on Saturday, the hope – one presumes – was to spark a reaction ahead of Tuesday's visit of Valencia.
"Some care more than others," he claimed, against a backdrop of a reported fall-out with record signing Paul Pogba and mounting pressure on his own position in the Old Trafford dugout following the club's worst start to a season for 29 years.
That loss at London Stadium followed a Premier League draw with Wolves and an EFL Cup shoot-out defeat to Derby County, and saw Pogba hooked after a disappointing 70 minutes.
The World Cup winner is claimed to have told team-mates "it's him or me" in relation to Mourinho in the wake of that performance, suggesting he could leave in January if his manager is still around.
But neither Mourinho's questioning of his players nor Pogba's supposed threats succeeded in lifting United beyond an impotent force at Old Trafford in a goalless draw with their LaLiga opponents.
4 - Jose Mourinho has gone four consecutive home games in all competitions without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Frustration. pic.twitter.com/hHV9kQ6fSg— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 2, 2018
What Mourinho witnessed early on was encouraging.
Alexis Sanchez – the man he omitted altogether on Saturday – looked eager to impress following reports the Chilean had been told he may never play for the club again by Mourinho.
A delightful flick in the opening minute and some probing balls into the Valencia box saw him form part of a momentarily cohesive attacking unit with Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku.
But United's aggressive intent came with no reward – every attack ground to a halt at the edge of the 18-yard box.
The price of their endeavour was to leave themselves open at the back, with Valencia's wide men afforded the space to cause United problems, and Goncalo Guedes fired straight at David de Gea with the game's first shot on target.
The frustration of those early failings going forward led to consternation, among players and fans, that appeared to allow heads to drop, while Mourinho barely bothered to get out of his seat as a tepid first half played out.
Pogba's influence was limited for the most part and he only occasionally threatened to wake United from their slumber – the France international finding like-minded colleagues in short supply when he attempted to pull the strings early in the second period.
Indeed, Lukaku did not register his first shot until the 70th minute of the match and the Belgian squandered a glorious opportunity to clinch victory late on with a free header, shortly after substitute Anthony Martial had clipped the crossbar with a free-kick from a tight angle.
The empty seats began to appear around Old Trafford as the 90th minute closed in – the boos that greeted the final whistle confirmation of a public dissatisfied with their team.
It is difficult to put your finger on what is broken about a United side boasting players of undoubted quality.
The question looming ever larger for the club's hierarchy is whether Mourinho is the man to fix it and, if this town ain't big enough for the both of them, will it be the Portuguese or Pogba who sticks around?