United deny talk­ing with Zi­dane about man­ager job

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By James Ducker and Jim White at Lon­don Sta­dium

Se­nior sources at Manch­ester United have dis­missed as “non­sense” claims the club have ap­proached Zine­dine Zi­dane over the prospect of re­plac­ing Jose Mour­inho as the pres­sure builds on the man­ager, with staff mem­bers now openly dis­cussing when his reign may come to an end.

United have now made their worst start to a Premier League sea­son af­ter a mis­er­able 3-1 de­feat at West Ham that leaves them with 10 points from seven games, and they are al­ready nine points adrift of Manch­ester City and Liver­pool at the top of the ta­ble.

Zi­dane is in­ter­ested in the United job and is a free agent since leav­ing Real Madrid in May af­ter de­liv­er­ing a third suc­ces­sive Cham­pi­ons League crown but United have rub­bished re­ports that they have ap­proached the French­man.

Mour­inho has re­tained the back­ing of the United ex­ec­u­tive vice-chair­man Ed Wood­ward de­spite the poor start and Tues­day’s Carabao Cup loss to Derby County, but mem­bers of staff at the club are thought to have dis­cussed whether he can ride out the slump.

The United man­ager – who yes­ter­day dropped Alexis Sanchez from his squad – has en­dured a very pub­lic col­lapse in his re­la­tion­ship with record sign­ing Paul Pogba and sub­sti­tuted the France mid­fielder shortly af­ter the hour mark yes­ter­day af­ter an in­ef­fec­tive per­for­mance. But he chose to ques­tion the of­fi­cials rather than his own team af­ter the de­feat, claim­ing Felipe An­der­son’s opener and Marko Ar­nau­tovic’s third – which came af­ter An­driy Yar­molenko had made it two for the hosts and Mar­cus Rash­ford had briefly pulled a goal back – should both have been dis­al­lowed.

But for­mer United de­fender Rio Fer­di­nand felt the per­for­mance was the type which could ne­ces­si­tate change.

“I be­lieve the pow­ers that be at this foot­ball club have a de­ci­sion to make,” he told BT Sport. “It’s get­ting too much. All the lit­tle wars in the dress­ing room, the sto­ries leak­ing out in the press.

“This could be the worst sea­son in the club’s history if some­thing doesn’t change – and fast. They’ve got to make a de­ci­sion right now – bang.”

Mour­inho was hon­est enough to ad­mit that his side were too gen­er­ous in their de­fend­ing yes­ter­day. He said: “We were not good enough to stop the counter-at­tack. We’re not very good in tran­si­tion. We are not a team that is very good when we lose pos­ses­sion and the other team counter-at­tacks.”

He also con­firmed his de­ci­sion to leave out Sanchez was purely tac­ti­cal.

“Look, for how many months peo­ple are ask­ing for [An­thony] Mar­tial,” he said. “And Alexis is not play­ing well enough so this week it was time for me to agree so I picked Mar­tial and left Alexis out.”

And to think, a fort­night ago it was West Ham in ap­par­ent freefall. Manuel Pel­le­grini’s side fol­lowed their eight­goal thrash­ing of Mac­cles­field Town in the Carabao Cup with an easy vic­tory over Manch­ester United. This has been, as their man­ager in­ti­mated, a very good week for the club.

For their vis­i­tors, how­ever, it was rather dif­fer­ent: an­other day, an­other sham­bles. As sto­ries of in­ter­nal dis­putes and gath­er­ing fall­outs pro­lif­er­ate, what United’s man­ager Jose Mour­inho re­quired was a strong state­ment of in­tent, tan­gi­ble proof that he was in con­trol. In­stead, if this was meant as a demon­stra­tion of what his play­ers think about his man­age­ment, it could not have been more pointed in its de­liv­ery. Never mind brick walls, right now it ap­pears they would be un­likely to run through a damp pa­per bag if his fu­ture de­pended on it.

The man­ager did not help him­self, serv­ing up a mas­ter­class in mud­dled think­ing. Af­ter two well-or­gan­ised away vic­to­ries against Wat­ford and Burn­ley, Mour­inho re­drew his tac­ti­cal ap­proach.

Paul Pogba might have in­sisted dur­ing the week that United’s method­ol­ogy should al­ways be based on the mantra “at­tack, at­tack, at­tack”. But it has long been clear the three words Mour­inho prefers are “con­tain, con­tain, con­tain”. He left Jesse Lin­gard and, much to the sur­prise and re­lief of his op­po­site num­ber, Alexis Sanchez out of his match-day squad. And, ap­par­ently be­cause he could not trust An­thony Mar­tial to ful­fil any de­fen­sive du­ties, fielded three cen­tre-backs.

In his re­lent­less quest to con­vert mid­field­ers into cen­tre-backs, this week it was the turn of Scott McTom­i­nay to play the fall guy, sta­tioned along­side Chris Smalling and Vic­tor Lin­de­lof in the heart of de­fence.

As tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tives go, it was about as suc­cess­ful as the Che­quers Agree­ment. The point about three cen­tral de­fend­ers is that one of them is meant to bring the ball out into mid­field. But from the start, United’s jit­tery trio in­sisted on giv­ing it to Ne­manja Matic, who drifted ever deeper to re­ceive pos­ses­sion. With four of United’s play­ers per­ma­nently en­camped in their own half, it meant that Mark Noble, Pe­dro Obiang and Felipe An­der­son were gifted so much space they needed the USS En­ter­prise fully to ex­plore it.

What is more, a three-man back line re­quires your de­fend­ers to be alert, quick to the ball. Dou­bling up in the wrong places, leav­ing spa­ces in be­hind, they re­de­fined the term un­cer­tain.

West Ham, buoyed by their mid­week goal glut, were quick to de­liver pun­ish­ment. Barely six min­utes had elapsed be­fore Noble sent Pablo Za­baleta (who was maybe an inch or two off­side), into the vast open spa­ces be­hind Luke Shaw. The Ar­gen­tine crossed and An­der­son stole be­tween the stat­uesque cen­tre-backs to pro­vide a de­light­ful back-heeled fin­ish.

Worse was to fol­low for Mour­inho’s team. With­out re­ally rous­ing them­selves, while still en­cum­bered by lethargy, the vis­i­tors had played their way back into a sem­blance of par­ity; Romelu Lukaku even hit a post with a

Vis­i­tors plumb the depths with aw­ful run

Manch­ester United last had fewer points af­ter seven games in 1989/90 (7) and this is their joint worst Premier League start with 2013/14. David de Gea (pic­tured above con­ced­ing to Marko Ar­nau­tovic) has one clean sheet in seven games – he had six at this stage last sea­son.

smart header. But then, just be­fore half-time, yet more sham­bolic de­fend­ing opened them up again.

Worse, de­spite hav­ing enough height to scaf­fold Ever­est, the vis­i­tors al­lowed West Ham to steal in from a set-piece. Af­ter a cor­ner was not prop­erly cleared, An­driy Yar­molenko skimmed across the area and of­fered up a spec­u­la­tive shot. It took a huge de­flec­tion off Lin­de­lof, leav­ing David De Gea flat-footed and Mour­inho fum­ing. “We had done our home­work,” he said. “Don’t let him on to his left foot.”

Spurred into ac­tion, the man­ager de­liv­ered a mercy killing to the three­man de­fen­sive sys­tem af­ter 56 min­utes, Lin­de­lof was with­drawn, leav­ing the rookie cen­tre-back McTom­i­nay in po­si­tion. Mar­cus Rash­ford ar­rived to add a lit­tle zest to the United ef­fort.

Min­utes later, in a hugely sym­bolic mo­ment af­ter one too many at­tempts to add to his YouTube clips com­pi­la­tion and los­ing the ball in the process, Pogba joined Lin­de­lof on the bench, be­tween them £115 mil­lion worth of du­bi­ous in­vest­ment. Frankly, if what we are told is cor­rect and Old Traf­ford is stag­ing a bat­tle be­tween Mour­inho and Pogba, as scraps go right now it more closely re­sem­bles two bald men fight­ing over a comb.

There was a brief flurry from the vis­i­tors when Shaw’s cor­ner al­lowed Rash­ford to flick in at the near post. But the United re­vival did not last long. They sel­dom do these days. Two min­utes later, Noble – rel­ish­ing the free­dom of east Lon­don – seized on the ball af­ter Za­baleta had felled Rash­ford and played Marco Ar­nau­tovic through.

As Smalling stared va­cantly into the po­si­tion he thought McTom­i­nay might as­sume, the Aus­trian strode through and guided the ball un­der De Gea.

For West Ham, with their sup­port­ers en­joy­ing them­selves hugely, the bub­ble is in­flat­ing nicely.

For their vis­i­tors, on the other hand, the fu­ture is shrouded in doubt and dis­ap­point­ment. Ac­cru­ing just 10 points from seven matches, this is United’s least prof­itable start to a sea­son since the Premier League be­gan. But sta­tis­tics can be de­cep­tive: frankly they look a lot worse than that.

Ham­mered: Jose Mour­inho can­not watch as his United side lose 3-1 to West Ham

Odd man out: Jose Mour­inho ges­tures to­wards the crowd as West Ham’s Marko Ar­nau­tovic cel­e­brates scor­ing by hold­ing up a shirt with the name of in­jured Car­los Sanchez on itAn­thony Mar­tial, Romelu Lukaku and Ash­ley Young come in but United fall apart in an aw­ful display. For­ma­tion switch, 3 changes A re­turn to the 4-3-3 for­ma­tion with Marouane Fel­laini brought in for a com­fort­able vic­tory.

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