‘Fragile’ Manch­ester United strug­gling un­der Jose Mour­inho

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Manch­ester United hoped Jose Mour­inho would pro­vide a quick-fix.

Hire the man­ager renowned as a “se­rial win­ner” and the stu­por of the fleet­ing David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras would van­ish. There’s lit­tle sign of that. If any­thing, re­sults and per­for­mances sug­gest the record 20time English cham­pi­ons are re­gress­ing. Even Mour­inho calls his team “fragile.”

With five losses in his open­ing 16 games, Mour­inho has made a worse start than Alex Fer­gu­son’s two im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sors who never came close to win­ning the Premier League or Cham­pi­ons League.

Un­der Mour­inho, United is even a di­min­ished force in the sec­ond-tier Europa League. A 21 loss to Fener­bahce on Thurs­day left United third in its group with only six points out of a pos­si­ble 12.

Although Mour­inho has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed his dis­dain for UEFA’s Thurs­day night com­pe­ti­tion, the Por­tuguese coach doesn’t ex­pect his team to slacken. There’s pride on the line, if lit­tle pres­tige.

“Our prob­lem started in our global at­ti­tude,” Mour­inho said, be­rat­ing his team for treat­ing for the game like a friendly.

The only en­cour­ag­ing mo­ment in Turkey for United was Wayne Rooney end­ing a goal drought of al­most three months — a mo­ment of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, cer­tainly for the 31-year-old cap­tain. But there is lit­tle ev­i­dence Rooney, so in­ef­fec­tive for Mour­inho, will pro­vide any po­tency on Sun­day at Swansea.

Rooney’s only goals this sea­son have come against the Turk­ish league’s fifth-place team and Bournemouth. No team of any might has felt threat­ened by the pres­ence of the fad­ing Rooney.

While Rooney sym­bol­ises some of United’s short­com­ings, the bur­den of the blame shouldn’t rest on the striker.

There are clearly deeper flaws when the team goes through Oc­to­ber with­out win­ning a sin­gle Premier League game, draw­ing three times and los­ing once on Mour­inho’s hu­mil­i­at­ing re­turn to Chelsea.

And in those four games, United has scored only once — fail­ing even to find a way past pro­moted Burn­ley last week­end to drop to eighth in the league.

“Some­times teams don’t score goals be­cause of their phi­los­o­phy, be­cause the team isn’t ag­gres­sive enough and doesn’t risk enough,” Mour­inho said.

Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic hit the ground run­ning with four goals in four games after sign­ing amid great fan­fare in July, but since then the 35-year-old for­ward has looked his age by net­ting only once in 11.

“Some play­ers in our at­tack­ing ar­eas lack con­fi­dence,” Mour­inho said. “They’re not sharp and get­ting the chances that they can.”

And the treat­ment room is get­ting crowded, too.

Cen­ter backs Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling were joined on the in­jury list on Thurs­day by Paul Pogba, who limped off with a thigh in­jury.

Not that Pogba, the world’s most ex­pen­sive player, has been look­ing like a 105 mil­lion euro ($117 mil­lion) mid­fielder since re­join­ing the club in Au­gust.

Then there’s an­other of Mour­inho’s sign­ings: Henrikh Mkhi­taryan. The Ar­me­nian played the last 30 min­utes of the loss in Turkey after two months out of the team.

But the at­tack­ing mid­fielder is a shadow of the player who scored 23 goals and set up an­other 32 last sea­son for Borus­sia Dort­mund.

“He has to do more, it is as sim­ple as that,” Mour­inho said. “We have big ex­pec­ta­tions in the club. We have lots of play­ers for these po­si­tions and he has to play bet­ter than (Juan) Mata, he has to play bet­ter than (Jesse) Lin­gard, he has to play bet­ter than (An­thony) Mar­tial.

“(Mkhi­taryan) has to play bet­ter than them. It is as sim­ple as that. Ev­ery man­ager in the world wants to win matches ... I am no dif­fer­ent.”

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