Three defeats in a row can not be justified at any club, let alone Manchester United. But with some perspective and plain logic, these defeats can actually be revealing something about the side that Mourinho has in his hands to mould into one of ‘his’ typically successful squads.
There’s a strikingly common theme in all the three defeats – an abysmal first half. United’s first half in these three defeats have have been progressively getting from bad to worse and at Vicarage Road they were absolutely diabolical in certain periods in that first 45. Although there is a marginal improvement in the intensity to which they approach games on the last two years, their motive remains the same – they very rarely take the initiative.
In the first half against City, they were paralyzed for the first half an hour, unable to cope with the Blues’ two number 10’s in De Bruyne and Silva – getting into pockets of spaces to release the front men at will.
Against Feynoord, the Red Devils sat content and waited until half time to pull the trigger before it was too late and shot themselves in the foot instead after Feynoord’s goal.
Enter Watford and Mourinho’s message to take the game seriously seemed to have not reached the players’ heads as they never really kicked on until Capoue opened the scoring. They ended the first half without a shot on goal.
More than all the tactical malarkey that get all the attention usually in a defeat like this, it’s the simple motivation and application that this team lacks at this moment and something that is very rarely a feature in a Jose Mourinho’s side.
In the past, they have always had that siege mentality, be it Chelsea or Real Madrid or Inter Milan and a cause to defend and maybe it’s a touch early now for the Portuguese to cling on to some refereeing injustice to rally his team around and he’s already hinted at a few of those ‘unlucky moments’ in all the defeats in this past week and a full scale onslaught cannot be far away.
He touched on the motivation issue before the Feynoord fixture, hardly the right time talk about in his first Europa league match as a manager in thirteen years, effectively paid his price when his side looked morbidly toothless until the break.
Although he started a side the most fans would have liked and wanted to see ahead of the game in Netherlands, they failed to impress. And this includes the two key aspects – one being Rooney’s exclusion from the starting line-up and two – starting with a midfield trio of Schneiderlin, Herrera and Pogba with the latter playing as the most attacking of the three. Despite the fact that the game was lost by a shoddy defensive error, one should not forget to mention that United attempted a total of 18 shots in that encounter to come away with less than a third of those that actually tested Brad Jones.
So, lets not kid ourselves now, trying to pretend that we know better than Jose Mourinho to suggest tactical alterations. But what the Portuguese clearly needs to do now is what he is the best at – probably in the world, even now. It is give his players a real kick up their arse, make them believe they are being hated and conspired against in every single game by the referees and the media, and opposition fans for spending the money that they earned, on players who could be as good as any in the league, in a perfectly functional system.
This is why the timing of these three defeats are positive in a way for Manchester United when the league is still in its second gear waiting for someone to put the foot on the gas (although, City look the most likely team to do that). With the games ahead in the league being much more challenging (Leicester, Liverpool and Chelsea in three of the next four games), the manager’s task of getting his players mentally ready has become much easier.
Now all he needs is the platform where he can get the best out of his players by playing to their strengths. And what better platform could he have dreamed of to get back in winning ways in the league than against the Champions at Old Trafford?