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?
Pochettino led the Spurs past his idol and Manchester United on Monday with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford, which put Mourinho’s job security in further doubt.
Afterward, Pochettino said: “Of course I respect him and he’s one of the greatest managers in the history of football. Like I told a few days ago, he was very inspirational for me.”
See Pochettino’s full comments in the video below.
After a summer of discontent, United have lost two of their first three matches of a Premier League campaign for the first time since 1992-93.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men went on to win the title that season, but there are few signs that under-fire Mourinho can lead the team to league glory this term.
As if the woeful 3-2 loss at Brighton was not enough, the Portuguese tasted the heaviest home defeat of his managerial career as Tottenham ran out 3-0 victors at Old Trafford on Monday.
Odds on Mourinho leaving have tumbled but Press Association Sport understands that United are continuing to back their manager amid the growing storm of scrutiny.
The former Chelsea boss certainly has work to do before Sunday’s trip to Burnley given the way his side were ruthlessly carved open by Spurs as a bright start became a distant memory.
“Even we don’t understand what happened,” United midfielder Pogba said. “We started the game really well, we conceded two goals in the second half.
“The first goal was a real blow, we didn’t understand why, because we had the game in hand. One goal, two…we kept pushing, we had chances, and we conceded the third.
“The fans kept pushing us, they were really behind us. We feel really sorry for them, very disappointed, we wanted to do better.
“I think it was an undeserved defeat for us, in our desire, in everything we put into it. But football can be cruel. We just have to bounce back.”
United desperately need to return to winning ways at Turf Moor to ease the pressure heading into the international break.
Last season’s runners-up already find themselves six points off the summit, but Pogba is keeping calm and focused amid the storm.
“It won’t be easy, but it’s just the start of the season,” he said. “I prefer to start badly and end well than start well and finish badly.
“It’s bizarre. (Against Tottenham) we were determined, we started well, and in the end we lost 3-0. It’s a shock.”
Pogba’s commitment to the United cause is a welcome boost in an uncomfortable period when his happiness is one of a variety of matters hanging over the club.
Some disgruntled fans have intended to fly a plane over the ground against Burnley calling for the exit of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, while Mourinho is favourite to become the first top-flight manager to leave his post.
The United boss has struck an unhappy figure since returning for pre-season, venting his spleen on matters varying from player fitness to professionalism and the need for reinforcements, particularly in defence.
The pressure appears to be making its impact on Mourinho, who stormed out of his post-match press conference on Monday demanding respect.
But the United boss has not lost the board or fans just yet, with the 55-year-old showing his appreciation to the latter by applauding the Stretford End for several minutes after the Spurs game.
Some around the club are understood to have initially wondered whether it was a farewell, but Mourinho explained it was merely an expression of gratitude.
“I went inside the pitch because normally I am the first person to leave the pitch when my team wins,” Mourinho told MUTV.
“But my team lost and the players deserved that they are in the middle of the pitch with me, so I went in the middle of the pitch for my players but then the fans had such an amazing reaction to the boys.
“I had to thank them on behalf of everyone.”