The last three and a half years have been miserable for Manchester United fans, especially when we look at the previous twenty-five to thirty. Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign left such a weight of expectation on United that each and every loss is met with resentment by Reds’ supporters. The Moyes and Van Gaal years passed by with tedious mediocrity. However this was seemingly ended in summer with the announcement that José Mourinho would be the next to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford.
Four months and four ‘star signings’ later, United lie 8th in the Premier League and are flirting with being knocked out of the Europa League; but just what is going wrong? The players are there, the manager’s reputation is indisputable (particularly in Europe), so why can’t this United team click?
The most obvious difference between today’s United set up and that of the Fergie years is the formation. For years they played, and succeeded, with a traditional 4-4-2. Two flying wingers, two in central midfield and two up top. It’s a mystery to me that anyone could think it beneficial to alter a consistently successful system at a top club. Mourinho has the right personnel to choose from to reinvent the 4-4-2 at Old Trafford, yet opts for one-upfront in a 4-2-3-1 formation. In fairness, this system has worked for other Premier League teams in recent years, but when your lone striker (Ibrahimovic) is dropping back to 40 yards out to pick the ball up, it leaves little to no options in the final third.
Aside from the lack of attacking bodies in Mourinho’s preferred set up, there is a total lack of movement and attacking intent amongst the players. How many times have you seen the ball shipped from Valencia at Right Back to Shaw at Left Back via five or six players, then sent straight back around with no territory gained. As a Manchester United fan it is the most frustrating thing to see. We find ourselves screaming at televisions in a redundant bid to urge the team forward. Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford excluded, I can’t remember the last time I saw a player in red break into a sprint. Mourinho desperately needs to increase the tempo and intensity, if not to win games then simply to please the fans.
The players must find it challenging to work with teammates that have been thrown together in the last couple of years, but these are some of the best players in the world. They should have been able to adapt to new colleagues and surroundings by now. Some of the United team don’t seem to understand what it means to wear the shirt. Anthony Martial spends most of his time sulking on the left wing, Pogba is too busy choreographing his latest dance routine and Ibrahimovic would rather stand around moaning with his arms in the air than bust a gut to get on the end of a loose ball. On an individual level it is quite frankly not good enough for a club of United’s stature.
Alongside these aspects, their is a degree of misfortune about the poor results we’ve been seeing. On another day Burnley could’ve been a cricket score and how often will Moussa Sow score a goal as good as his overhead kick for Fenerbahçe on Thursday. This slump cannot just be pinned on bad luck however, something has to change. And fast. The Reds’ next three games come against Swansea (A), a fixture in which they tend to struggle, Arsene Wenger’s high-flying Arsenal (H) and Group leaders Feyenoord (H) in a must-win Europa League game. Much work is to be done for José Mourinho, or his job may be on the line.