They are still Manchester United but not as we know them. After the third Tottenham goal went in on a dreadful night for the Red Devils, it was easy to wonder how surprising the result truly was given their drastic fall from grace.
Unsurprisingly, the glare has only become more intensely focused on Jose Mourinho, who seems ripe for yet another third-season sacking.
Below, Sport360 journalists Chris Bailey, Brendon Netto and Matt Jones answer some of the big questions surrounding Mourinho’s future.
What is the biggest problem that Mourinho must solve in order to save his job?
CB: As it stands there will be no happy ending. But to at least last the season? His immediate concern has to be the defence. Eric Bailly is too rash, Victor Lindelof slow of speed and thought, Phil Jones altogether madcap and Chris Smalling, perhaps the best pure defender, often looks like he’s never kicked a ball.
If Mourinho can somehow stitch up a defence – for all his faults, it’s his strength – and piece together some self-belief, United can still finish in the top four. There’s enough attacking talent to scrap out wins.
BN: It’s French, supremely talented and has the ability to turn things around – Paul Pogba. After a stellar World Cup, Mourinho should’ve been building his team around the star midfielder but continued to take a couple of jibes at him.
After Pogba suggested all was not well on social media, the Portuguese’s tune changed but maybe too late. Pogba can galvanise the dressing room. He did it for France and Mourinho needs him on his side now more than ever.
MJ: The fact he no longer seems capable of inspiring his players or galvanising his squad is a huge concern.
Despite his attritional, sometimes bullying nature and penchant for mind games, Sir Alex Ferguson was a chameleon who continually reinvented both himself and his squads during an unprecedented era of success at United in order to remain at the top.
Mourinho seems unable, or more worryingly, stubbornly refuses to adapt in order to compete with Pep Guardiola.
How much is the poor start down to United’s failures in the transfer market?
CB: The best managers coax the best out of their players, and while Mourinho has done exactly that in the past, that track record has long been in the rear-view mirror. Bailly and Lindelof are flawed, yet Mourinho sanctioned their purchases. Even the creme de la creme signings of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku are far more emboldened when they are playing for their countries.
Take Alexis Sanchez – he has been dragged down to the United attack’s level since his arrival in January. Be honest – would even Lionel Messi flourish for them at the moment?
BN: Simply put, if United had a world class centre-back in their XI, they wouldn’t have lost the last two games. For all their shortcomings with regard to style of play and creating chances, they’ve suffered from individual errors at the back.
In both fixtures, they conceded two quickfire goals that knocked the stuffing out of them. A successful transfer window may not have made for a perfect start but at least United wouldn’t be in crisis mode.
MJ: You can’t deny it’s a factor, but how much of one is up for debate. United didn’t bring in the elite centre-back he coveted – and one the humbling Spurs defeat showed it clearly needed – but Mourinho still has a tremendously talented squad at his disposal.
Mauricio Pochettino has barely added to his squad in more than 12 months. Mourinho should be getting much more out of the current crop. The old Mourinho would win the league with this United squad.
It’s only three games into the season – does Mourinho deserve more respect from the media?
CB: Until United mount a sustained challenge domestically or in Europe again, this job will be seen as the most poisoned of chalices. Mourinho’s CV should be respected and it should be worrying to the Red Devils’ higher-ups that if he can’t breathe some life into this team, there remains a distinct lack of candidates who possibly could.
The sourpuss shtick, though, is grating. He doesn’t even bother to veil digs at other managers, his players, even his own employers. Why should he be venerated when he treats so many others with disdain?
BN: He doesn’t automatically deserve respect because of the three titles he won in the past. However, people love to see the mighty fall and Mourinho has had some harsh treatment.
His tactics against Spurs were bashed but he actually had the upper hand over Mauricio Pochettino in the first half, something the Argentine later admitted. United had 17 key passes and 23 shots to Spurs’ seven and nine. Mourinho deserved more credit but his team were undone by glaring errors.
MJ: Yes and no. Perhaps he deserves a little more respect for what he’s achieved, both in terms of at United and overall as a Premier League manager, but he won’t get it.
The British press can be like a pack of wolves and with Mourinho and United teetering on the edge of separation, they can smell blood. Also, has Mourinho shown much respect for the likes of Arsene Wenger, Iker Casillas and countless others in the past?
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