United deny talking with Zidane about manager job
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.