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What Jose Mourinho must do to turn things around at Manchester United

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A man under pressure

Death, taxes and a third season meltdown for Jose Mourinho are all well established facets of life and, whilst still being only three games into this campaign, prospects look especially bleak for Manchester United’s Portuguese manager. Many anticipated it would be that he finally restored the club to the prominence enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, yet already his future has been thrown into doubt. Losing two of their first three matches in the Premier League, they already have the same number of defeats that Manchester City suffered in the entirety of last season as they went on to win the Premier League title. The gap between those two clubs at present looks as wide as it’s ever been and there is plenty of work for Mourinho to do if he wishes to remain in charge at Old Trafford.

Restore exciting football to Old Trafford

It surely has to start with the brand of football his team are continuing to play. When fans are paying top money to watch their club each week as the United fans are, they will be expecting top entertainment to correlate with the ticket prices. From that standpoint, they certainly aren’t getting value for money at this moment in time. Despite a wealth of exciting players such as Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku all being at the club, so often United flatter to deceive under Mourinho. It is a far cry from what teams of a bygone era would produce at Old Trafford, where the first thought was always to win the match, regardless of who the opponent was. Now, more often than not, United pay the biggest compliments to their opponents by setting up to counter the way they play, rather than focusing on utilising their own strengths from within. That was again evident on Monday night as Mourinho lined up with five central midfielders in an unorthodox three at the back system, which saw Ander Herrera line up in defence. In front of him were Nemanja Matic, Fred, Pogba and Lingard, whilst Rashford and Alexis Sanchez watched on from the bench.

Manchester United Lukaku Lingard
United have looked incredibly flat over the opening weeks of the campaign

Decide on a centre-back partnership

The ploy to use Herrera at the back may well have been a classic ploy from Mourinho, sending a message to the board by using a midfield at centre-back against the top striker in the Premier League. Mourinho has voiced his frustrations over the club failing to bring in a new defender over the transfer window, that has left them with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling (who both started against Spurs) along with Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo to choose from at centre-back. Main targets Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire have both faced them already this season, though there won’t be too many other managers showing great sympathy for his situation. Wherever Mourinho has gone, he has spent big money to bring in the players he wants, particularly in the spine of the team. He seems to be quick to forget that it was he that spent a combined £65m on both Bailly and Lindelof and neither has really established themselves at the club. Instead of complaining, why doesn’t he settle on a pair and coach them on the training ground until he begins to see signs of improvement?

Chris Smalling Lucas Moura Tottenham Manchester United
Chris Smalling endured a torrid evening against Lucas Moura on Monday night

Get his key players on board

Mourinho demanded respect from the media before storming out of his post-match press conference in the aftermath of the defeat to Tottenham, in another confrontational moment between he and the national press. His calls for respect are perhaps reflective of the current perception his players have of him in the dressing room. It’s well documented that both he and Pogba share a spiky relationship to say the least, while Anthony Martial looks determined to leave because of Mourinho. It could be argued Luke Shaw’s recent performances have come as a result of the player wanting to prove himself once again, as opposed to the belief that is was Mourinho who has given him the hunger to perform once again in a United shirt. David De Gea has conceded seven goals in his first three games - albeit with little help from those in front of him - and is one of a number of players that are underperforming from the level we are used to seeing. It is nearly impossible for a manager to succeed without having the backing of his players and for them to want to perform for him. In the opposite dugout on Monday night, Ed Woodward saw the value of man management with the Tottenham players all quick to embrace Mauricio Pochettino after the 3-0 win and they as a squad can’t speak highly enough about the Argentine.


Pochettino looks like a manager who loves his job and working with the players day in, day out. The same can’t be said for Mourinho, whose apathetic body language and demeanour looks to have translated its way into Manchester United’s performances. Against Brighton, a lack of effort and fight saw Chris Hughton’s team simply outwork United for the win, rather than through an added level of quality. It would be fascinating to have the chance to watch a training session at Carrington and see how Mourinho currently interacts with his players, as there appears to be no real close bond between he or any individuals at present. The prolonged clapping of the supporters at the Stretford End before trudging off down the tunnel had an air of resignation about it. This is the biggest challenge he has faced in his managerial career to date and failure to turn it around soon could end in a Chelsea 2.0 scenario, where he is dismissed before the turn of the new year. A repeat of such circumstances would be yet another huge blow to his ego and begin to well and truly take some of the sparkle from his position in world football. Mourinho is beginning to look like yesterday’s man and something has to change drastically if they are to compete for silverware this term.

Mourinho Pochettino
Mourinho's antics are frustrating United supporters