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Is Jose Mourinho getting the best out of his players?

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Is Jose Mourinho getting the best out of his players?

Gary Neville and Graeme Souness sparked debate on Sunday evening in the aftermath of the Manchester derby, as the pair argued over Jose Mourinho’s role in their current poor form.

Both pundits made their case. Souness sat on the side of the fact that Mourinho should be getting more out of his players, while Neville believes there is only so much that he can do with this current squad. Now, of course, Mourinho is partly to blame for the squad United have, though there is certainly the case to say that they are completely outmatched by Manchester City.

On paper, Pep Guardiola’s men are far better than United and it certainly played out that way on the pitch, also. Losing Paul Pogba before a ball was kicked was a huge blow to the team, with the away side’s midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera being unable to live with their opposite numbers.

Tactical setup

David Silva was as terrific as ever, Fernandinho broke up the play as he always does, while Bernardo Silva was elusive. This was a team that was even missing Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan from the middle of the park, with the latter coming from the bench to score the third goal.

Up against that quality of opponent in such a key area of the field, along with such a gulf in quality on his side, there is only so much Mourinho can do. As Neville pointed out, Matic, Fellaini and Herrera aren’t the kind of players that can play quick, one and two touch play in midfield.

Nemajna Matic Manchester United
United's midfield were chasing shadows at the Etihad Stadium - with David Silva & Bernardo Silva in particular running the show

There was not the creativity in the United ranks that was in the City team, which forced Mourinho into a corner and to play on the counter attack, leaving Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to feed off of rare breaks. Aside from using Jesse Lingard in midfield and putting Alexis Sanchez on the wing or playing Juan Mata from the start, there wasn’t much else Mourinho could do.

Regardless if Lingard or Mata had started, City still would’ve dominated possession and been the dominant side in the game, which would’ve also resulted in United having one less defensive-minded player in the team. Liverpool took a point against City earlier in the season without playing with a recognised number 10, with Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum all starting in the 0-0 draw at Anfield.

Are the players good enough?

However, United’s midfielder’s’ performances on the day were all ineffective. There is a ceiling to what can be achieved with Matic, Herrera and Fellaini in a team up against City, with Souness’ point having more of a wider view, rather than being an immediate reaction to the disappointing result.

From that standpoint, yes a case can be made. Pogba is a better player than what he has shown at times at Old Trafford, Romelu Lukaku was a force to be reckoned with at Everton and Rashford’s early potential demands that he should have more than two Premier League goals this season. Even David De Gea isn’t showing his superhero form that has won United numerous points in recent seasons, the loss of which has really highlighted some of their shortcomings.

David De Gea
Even David De Gea - one of United's most consistent performers in recent seasons - has looked far from convincing at times

But, as Neville pointed out, who’s to say that this isn’t the limit of most of these players? For example, this is the first time that Martial has been at a club with a global following and on the biggest stage. The level of pressure and expectation on Lukaku is far greater at United than it ever was during his spell at Goodison Park.

The players themselves must take responsibility for their performances, with there only being so much that the manager can do for them. They have been brought to United for a reason, having performed well at other clubs and have shown, for the most part, that they are capable of performing at the top level.

Deeper issues?

This isn’t a new problem, with both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal experiencing similar issues, which perhaps points to the fact that there could be deeper issues within the structure of the club. Standards have slipped since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 and there aren’t the characters and leaders within the dressing room that there once was.

Wayne Rooney has since revealed that the last Ferguson team’s dressing room was run by five players - himself, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes - and were trusted to do so by their manager. We are in a different era now, where such leaders are few and far between and Mourinho appears to lack such trust in his team.

United have underperformed for a variety of reasons this season and the blame can’t all fall on the shoulders of one individual. As the manager, Mourinho will almost always take the blame, though it is absolutely a collective problem that is costing them.

Begrudgingly for United, they could learn a thing or two by looking across the city at their noisy neighbours and the way they run their ship.