Mourinho's muted celebrations indicative of the job ahead

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  • The sombre look on Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho’s face spoke volumes.

    As his players cavorted with the League Cup on Sunday, the non-plussed behaviour of the ‘Special One’ stood in stark contrast.

    Despite his protestations about the benign nature of his actions, it is difficult to believe they did not possess an ulterior motive.

    A message was surely being delivered about the true value of success in England’s third-ranked competition and the pressing need for summer refinements.

    True, we are talking about a man who has consistently proven not to be beholden to pomp and ceremony. He wasted no time bolting from the pitch after he staggeringly led Porto to the 2003/04 Champions League, while a succession of medals quickly found their way into the crowd at other postings.

    Extensive work is not needed to lift United up from sixth in the Premier League.

    A late salvage job from Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who else? – was required after a two-goal lead was spurned against Southampton, but this was the worst performance in an otherwise promising run of one defeat in 26 matches.

    United also find themselves so close to every other giant in the top flight apart from runaway leaders Chelsea despite a paltry chance-conversion rate of 12.5 per cent – the 17th best.

    Mourinho will relish retooling a £600 million (Dh2.7 billion) squad classed as the most-expensive ever by the CIES Football Observatory.

    Talismanic striker Ibrahimovic’s free-kick and last-gasp header undid the Saints and brought him onto 26 goals in 38 appearances during a bravura debut campaign.

    This tally is 19 more than any of his team-mates.

    This glaring dependency – if the Swede exercises the option on the second year of his deal – must be reduced, with Atletico Madrid and France forward Antoine Griezmann the obvious and expensive solution.

    A ball-playing centre-back to add refinement alongside the agricultural Phil Jones and Eric Bailly should be recruited. Benfica’s Victor Lindelof is a better option when compared to the increasingly-shaky Chris Smalling.

    Left-back remains an issue. Argentina’s Marcos Rojo was a repeat sinner against the Saints, meaning Luke Shaw’s abandonment is ever puzzling.

    A system which can ensure Paul Pogba consistently lives up to his billing as football’s £89m (Dh406.7m) record buy is another priority.

    Of this term’s benchmark matches, only November’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal can be classed as one which he truly grasped.

    His partnership with fellow runner Ander Herrera can leave the kind of spaces which Southampton regularly exploited, with defensive midfielder Michael Carrick’s advancing years ensuring he cannot always be counted on to plug gaps. A successor in the transfer market is a must, with Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko repeatedly linked.

    A definitive solution to Wayne Rooney’s situation must follow. The captain and club-top scorer was an unused substitute for the showpiece, yet still dominated coverage. If his phasing out under Mourinho reaches a denouement at the end of the season, it will force a clear path towards the future.

    The list of changes is not long.

    Now watch them be enacted with characteristic precision by one of football’s most-prolific winners.