The problems facing Jose Mourinho and Manchester United
By Peter Smith
Last Updated: 19/09/16 2:17pm
After Manchester United suffered three straight defeats, Peter Smith looks at some of the problems facing Jose Mourinho...
Manchester United slipped six points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday, concluding a week to forget for Jose Mourinho.
Their 3-1 defeat at Watford followed last weekend's Manchester derby reverse and the midweek loss at Feyenoord in the Europa League.
It's the first time since 2002 that Mourinho has endured three competitive defeats in a row. Next up is a tricky away trip to Northampton in the EFL Cup before defending Premier League champions Leicester visit Old Trafford.
After winning his first three Premier League games in charge, Mourinho now has issues to address at United. We take a look at some of the problems he's facing…
A confidence-hit squad
With Manchester United and Manchester City going into the derby on the back of three straight wins, something had to give, and the result has had a contrasting impact on each team.
For City, victory has further boosted their belief in Pep Guardiola's methods. For United, defeat has highlighted problems and affected the players' confidence. "I feel the first moment we had a defeat, a difficult situation, some of the boys are having a bit of difficulty coping with the negativity," said Mourinho.
That mental blow has been reflected in United's subsequent performances against Feyenoord and Watford. Against Feyenoord a much-changed team managed just four shots on target. At Watford, that number halved to two, while they attempted fewer dribbles than they have in any Premier League game this season and less than half the total they tried against Southampton before the City loss.
The only way to address this issue is with results. That means there is added pressure on Tuesday's League Cup tie with Northampton. The Sky Bet League One side have only been beaten three times in 2016 and will be fired up at Sixfields.
United have been knocked out by League One MK Dons and Championship Middlesbrough in the past two seasons in this competition, so victory is far from a foregone conclusion. Can Mourinho afford to drop too many first-team regulars?
How to get the most out of Pogba
Pogba's man-of-the-match-winning second debut for Manchester United against Southampton seems a long time ago now. On that night, the Frenchman - after a shaky start - took charge of proceedings. With a game-high 107 touches, Pogba showed off his full range of attributes and why he'd been the most sought-after player this summer. He dictated play with his 72 passes, broke down Southampton attacks with his four interceptions and only midfield partner Marouane Fellaini covered more ground in the 2-0 win.
Paul Pogba's Premier League performances
|Southampton||Hull City||Man City||Watford|
However, since an erratic display in the derby, Pogba seems shorn of the confidence which was so evident at Old Trafford against Saints. "I feel that some individuals probably feel the pressure and responsibility too much," Mourinho said after defeat to Watford, possibly referring to his world-record signing.
Against City, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described Pogba's performance as "one of the most ill-disciplined you will see".
The drop-off in his contributions have continued, with Fellaini taking on the mantel as United's most involved player, in terms of touches and passes. Against Watford, Pogba got on the ball just 76 times, way down on his 112 touches at Hull. Only 74.6 per cent of his 63 passes found their target, his worst accuracy rate since his return to United.
Is Pogba's best role as part of a deep-sitting midfield pair with Fellaini? He thrived on the left-hand side of a three for Juventus, while Phil Neville suggested on Monday Night Football he should be pushed further forward and relieved of some defensive duties. Given Pogba's transfer fee, Mourinho is compelled to persist with the player and experiment with different options. He has to find a solution.
Creativity and Rooney's role
Against Watford, United created just seven chances. That's the lowest number of openings they've recorded this season. But chance creation has been an issue throughout the opening weeks of the campaign.
United have conjured up five clear-cut chances this term. They are, according to Opta, instances when the forward should reasonably be expected to score. Manchester City have created 12 such openings. Everton and Leicester 10.
That lack of quality chance creation is having a knock-on effect for United's finishers. Their shooting accuracy is just 42.62 per cent, the 11th best total in the Premier League. Their shot conversion rate is 13.11 per cent, the 13th best figure. The service simply isn't good enough.
Manchester United creativity
|Creative stat||Man Utd total (PL rank)|
|Big chances||5 (T-7th)|
|Passes into final third||285 (T-14th)|
|Shooting accuracy||42.62% (11th)|
|Shot conversion rate||13.11% (13th)|
It's not like United are short on creative players. In Pogba they have Serie A's top assist maker from last season. Henrikh Mkhitaryan led the way in that statistic in the 2015/16 Bundesliga. Then there's Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford all vying for attacking roles behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
There's Wayne Rooney, too. No United player has made more assists or created more chances this term. But the captain remains a regular target for United supporters' frustrations. He is criticised for dropping too deep, lacking the pace to run beyond the opposition defence and slowing down United's play with his choice of passes.
Neville believes the No 10 still has a role to play - but says Mourinho is working with a different Rooney to the one which led the line for so many years at United. "Wayne Rooney will always go deep, it's a non-point," he told Sky Sports. "The only question that needs answering is whether he is still contributing to what Manchester United and Jose Mourinho want.
"Mourinho is playing him as a No 10 but he's dropping him deeper. It's impossible to stop Rooney dropping deeper, that's what he is now. He is more of a midfield player now than a forward because that's where he plays, but he can still score goals and contribute. The only person this concerns is Jose Mourinho, who has to decide whether he brings value to the team."
Mourinho must find a way to get United firing with Rooney in the side or make the huge call to drop his captain.
Manchester United had the joint-best defence in the Premier League last season and kicked off this campaign in similar fashion, conceding just once in their opening three games. However, they've let in six in their subsequent three and were often exposed against Watford.
The Hornets fired five shots on target - David de Gea only had to save six in United's first three games - and twice scored from cutbacks. It could have been more - Odion Ighalo was presented with a golden opportunity when De Gea and Chris Smalling went for the same ball, but somehow shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Chris Smalling's return for the past two games has broken up the Daley Blind-Eric Bailly centre-back partnership but while the England defender has had some shaky moments following his return from injury, Mourinho criticised Luke Shaw for failing to close down Nordin Amrabat for Watford's second and said it will take time to add the solidity his title-winning Chelsea had in 2014/15.
"You don't go there and in a couple of weeks everything becomes perfect," he said. "We have to improve, no doubt, individually and collectively." Defensive resolve is something Mourinho specialises in instilling in his teams. He'll be confident he can make that improvement quickly.
Lack of luck?
Refereeing decisions and not getting the rub of the green. It's a familiar topic for Mourinho. When asked about the three-straight defeats, the Portuguese was quick to point out the calls which had gone against his team in those matches.
"One [factor] is the referee's crucial mistakes," he said, listing a lack of luck and poor officiating alongside his team's need to cut out individual mistakes. "That's not in my control.
"Against Man City, you know what happened in minute 55," he said, referring to Claudio Bravo's challenge on Wayne Rooney. "Today you know what happened for the first goal," he continued, noting Miguel Britos' dispossession of Anthony Martial in the build-up to Watford's opener, which he felt was a foul. "Against Feyenoord you know that the goal was in an offside position. So we are punished by these mistakes and I can't do anything."
It should be noted, United have had their fortuitous moments this season. Juan Mata capitalised on a poor Simon Francis back-pass before Anthony Martial's mis-hit shot fell kindly for Wayne Rooney to head home against Bournemouth. They grabbed a late, late winner in stoppage time against Hull, too.
The challenge for Mourinho and United is to put right the other problems they are facing so luck and refereeing calls are taken out of the equation as much as possible.