Manchester United’s season is already reaching a critical juncture. The view largely held was that, if they came away from Stamford Bridge with credit in the bank, they will have come out of a taxing week credibly, after the point at Anfield and comprehensive victory over Fenerbahce.
That Chelsea blew United away, and didn’t even feel the urge to get out of second gear to humiliate the returning Mourinho, should set some serious alarm bells off.
It appears abundantly clear to Mourinho that his side are still deficient in big areas, the way he has set up his team for the crunch games would indicate that he believes United simply cannot go toe-to-toe with title hopefuls.
Mourinho looked a pale imitation of the all-conquering, gladiatorial manager back at the ground he used to strike fear into opponents. That fear factor, distinctly bereft at United in the last three years, threatened to return as Mourinho guided United to three straight wins in August. The place was buoyant but that optimism, much like Mourinho, has seeped away and cold reality has well and truly kicked in now.
For all of United’s shortcomings and the doom and gloom riddling this piece, United are only two wins from the top with the hellish spell over, but they need to get their acts together and fast.
Those wet behind the ears would perhaps feel insulted if I were to use the term ‘schoolboy’ to describe United’s defending, particularly for the opening and final goals. Indecision plagued United from the outset, Chris Smalling particularly culpable for those goals. Seeing your goalkeeper having to rush out and get beaten after 30 seconds throws the game plan completely out of the window.
The lack of midfield trackers and the way Smalling was turned inside and out for the fourth goal was equally shambolic. It was just all too easy, United gave up the ghost, downed tools and didn’t show any stomach for the fight or that they were hurting. You wonder whether some players are too cosy. There needs to be a pride looking down on that United badge.
I feel for those United fans who travelled down, relentlessly singing their hearts out, to be served up that dross. Come rain or shine, you can bank on our hardcore lot to always keep their end of the bargain, even if the players do not.
Mourinho talked post-game about how ‘everything went wrong’. It’s time to stop hiding behind excuses and take accountability for a dire showing. He mentioned how brilliant the fans were in staying with the team but he needs to be hurting. Sunday was Mourinho with a whimper, if he does not have belief how on earth does that engender a confident squad and restore that long-lost fear factor?
You could guarantee the Mourinho of old would instil that siege mentality, to hell with the rest. That is very much in keeping with the dominant United sides and the ethos ingrained in Ferguson’s era. It seems that, despite recruiting personality this summer, we are still a soft touch and, on present form, a long way off challenging.
I appreciate it takes time to mould a side, a culture, reviving a side from a three-year coma. United was never going to be a quick fix after the unfathomable decision from the greatest manager alive to choose his replacement. Mourinho has been cold and ruthless historically in choosing the personnel to follow his lead and who simply do not cut the mustard. He is seemingly still working out who falls into which category. United’s best eleven is still unclear two months into the season. That does not breed continuity and is not one of the footings of a title winning side.
The result was compounded by a potentially serious injury to the find of the season in Eric Bailly. You cannot help but wince when knee ligaments are mentioned as diagnoses. Many questioned whether the Ivorian was capable of adapting to such a cut-thrust league, given his rags to riches background. He has answered every question and some put in front of him, being a revelation with his pace and power. With the mythical Phil Jones and average Marcos Rojo waiting in the wings as centre-half back-up, positive medical feedback on Bailly is a must.
Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie against City will be a clash of two out of form teams with a lot more than bragging rights riding on it. Many will poo-poo the competition but who knows what avenging the league defeat could do for this side. It would be the ideal tonic, even if league points are not up for grabs.
It was embarrassing to endure on Sunday and the effortlessness of Chelsea with which Chelsea ran away with it was tough to watch. The stats will give off the impression it was an even game, Chelsea were just that much more clinical.
How about we stop feeling sorry for ourselves, making excuses and show our teeth?
For all my doom-mongering, United are only two wins from making up the ground. It seems this year no-one will run away with the league. Our next run of fixtures should be a lot more plain-sailing and the run up to Christmas is always a key time to build up momentum.
There can be no sugar coating Sunday that United were unlucky. They got their just desserts.
We will soon see a 4-0 wake-up call acts as a turning point and creates a winning formula or whether Mourinho’s United have deeper lying problems.