Why the drop in Manchester United's momentum is bound to continue
Mourinho's pragmatic approach may be here to stay because of a number of reasons
The Red Devils started their Premier League campaign in a scintillating manner with a 4-0 demolition of West Ham United at Old Trafford on the opening weekend. They followed it up with another 4-0 win at Swansea.
The goals kept coming for Manchester United and Romelu Lukaku in particular, that is, until the end of September. After scoring 32 goals in their opening 10 matches since the win over West Ham and conceding only 4, Jose Mourinho’s men are suffering from a dip in form.
In contrast to their remarkable start to the campaign, which had put them as early title favourites, United have managed to score only 7 goals in their last 6 matches. To put things in perspective, it would be relevant to highlight that those 7 goals include an own goal, a penalty and Marcus Rashford’s free-kick at Benfica.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has faded away after a bright start
Manchester United’s chief creative spark from the opening two months, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has faded away and has failed to register an assist since he got one against Leicester City back in August. He has also not completed 90 minutes in a match in the Premier League this season.
Mkhitaryan’s performances in the first month had created a lot of excitement amongst the United supporters. However, that seems to have faded away as the Armenian skipper has been a shadow of himself in the past few weeks. He really needs to be contributing to more goals and assists if United want to keep up with Manchester City.
United are sorely missing Paul Pogba
The 24-year-old Frenchman is still out injured with a hamstring injury, and Jose Mourinho is yet to clarify the position. However, it appears that Pogba is unlikely to be back anytime soon which does not help the Red Devils right now. They are sorely lacking creativity and inspiration in midfield, which Paul Pogba would have provided.
It has been 6 weeks since Pogba played. Although Maraoune Fellaini did try to fill in the void temporarily, as he was, arguably, in the form of his life, an injury to the Belgian midfielder means United are short of options in the centre of the park. While the club captain Michael Carrick remains sidelined as well, Herrera and Matic are the only senior options that Mourinho has at his disposal.
In the recent weeks, Manchester United have really lacked an inspiring figure in the centre of the park. They have been very unlucky with the injuries to their in-form midfielders Pogba and Fellaini.
Romelu Lukaku’s struggle in front of goal continues
United’s summer acquisition had made a flying start to his Manchester United career, having scored 11 goals in his first 10 games. However, he has not scored a single goal in his last 6 matches. Although, it would be unfair to put the full blame on Lukaku. A slight shift in United’s style of play towards more conservative and defensive tactics has limited Lukaku’s chances to score as well.
Further, with Pogba out injured and Mkhitaryan looking out of form, Lukaku has not been supplied with enough chances either. Though it was a surprise that he was not allowed to take the penalty against Benfica in the Champions League match. It would have done Lukaku’s confidence a world of good.
Jose Mourinho win matches his way
While not taking anything away from Manchester United, it would be fair to say that the performances in the last 6 games have not been up to the mark. The manager was heavily criticised after the Liverpool match for resorting to negative tactics.
However, Mourinho does not seem to be bothered about what is written about him in the media. In fact, he has been in this position earlier.
In the 2014/15 season when he was the manager of Chelsea, the Blues had made a similar start to their season by scoring 15 goals in their first 4 games. However, their performances were remarkably different in the latter half of the season.
Chelsea managed only 22 goals in their last 16 games as compared to 53 in their first 22 matches! They managed to score only one goal in 9 out of those 16 matches. And yet, they collected 35 points out of 48 available en route to their title win.
Jose's played this way before, and won, and there are no categorical signs that say he'll do otherwise this season. He has picked up points this way in the past, and when the going gets tough, you'd expect him to stick to what he knows best.
Naturally, with a number of intimidating fixures ahead, it won't be surprising if Mourinho decides to set up shop and wait out the storm.
Tough matches coming up
For United to remain in the title hunt, it is important to remain as close to the top as possible. Mourinho’s pragmatic approach to matches may perhaps benefit the currently out of form Red Devils.
Considering the form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Romelu Lukaku, coupled with long-term injuries to Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it is fair to say that we can expect a few more gritty performances from Manchester United in the coming few weeks.