What Mourinho must do to stop the rot

Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney both played badly against Watford. The Frenchman did not impose his will on the game while the captain was not in his best position.
Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney both played badly against Watford. The Frenchman did not impose his will on the game while the captain was not in his best position.PHOTO: REUTERS

1 KNOW HIS BEST SIDE

At the moment Jose Mourinho is a manager confused about his best XI. The Portuguese's indecisiveness is quaint for a glittering career built on the requisite ruthlessness.

For the Sept 10 home defeat by Manchester City, in came Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a full debut despite an injury during the international break, and Jesse Lingard, who had not featured since the Community Shield for the same reason.

This meant Marcus Rashford, who scored a dying-moments winner at Hull and a hat-trick for England Under-21s in his two previous outings, was benched again.

By half-time Mkhitaryan and Lingard had been dire and were hooked, and Rashford and Ander Herrera went on.

The muddled thinking continued at Watford. Paul Pogba's disappointing form meant Mourinho discarded the 4-2-3-1 he had thus far fielded for a 4-3-3 that had the Frenchman on the left of midfield.

Wayne Rooney was on the right - yet another puzzler as Mourinho has said that Rooney is a 10, 9, or 91/2, but never an 8.

Both Pogba and the captain were poor.

2 BUILD TEAM ROUND POGBA

To splurge £89.3 million (S$158 million) on an attacking midfielder and not centre the team on him is baffling.

The France international has operated in midfield as one of a pair - against Southampton, Hull, and Manchester City; as a No. 10 - in last week's defeat by Feyenoord; and then in the midfield three at Watford.

There is considerable onus on Pogba to take any contest by the throat wherever he plays. This is what all (supposedly) great footballers do and if this act is beyond the Frenchman, why was he brought back to Old Trafford?

The 23-year-old is only six games into his second spell at the club so these are early days. At Juventus, Pogba had Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings behind so that he could roam free: maybe Michael Carrick should be given a first chance of the season to see if he can operate as Pogba's new Pirlo.

3 DON'T BLAST PLAYERS IN PUBLIC

Twice now Mourinho has stated players lack bottle and criticised individuals for mistakes. Following the defeat against City, the Portuguese said: "Some of the boys felt the dimension of the game. Everything - the derby, the big game, Man United, Man City, the focus, the attention."

He then went on to question the performances of Daley Blind and Eric Bailly. After the defeat at Watford, Mourinho said: "Some individuals probably feel the pressure and responsibility too much." And he pointed to Luke Shaw as being responsible for Watford's winner.

Citing unnamed players as lacking mental courage starts a scramble to discover whom precisely Mourinho means, and stories may emerge of dressing-room unrest via the hurt parties.

Mourinho's public outing also provokes an uncomfortable question: why is any member of his squad at the club and earning a gargantuan salary if the pressure is too much for them? This clumsy man-management is further compounded by the citing of Bailly, Blind and Shaw - Mourinho could be accused of not protecting his players.

4 BENCH STARS IF NEEDED

The debate over Rooney's place in the side constantly thrums, even when United are winning. Now they are losing, the noise is far louder.

If he deserves to be excluded, Mourinho should act, as he should do with regard to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marouane Fellaini or anyone else .

Ibrahimovic's four goals in five league outings cannot be ignored, but neither can his lack of mobility and pace when a match needs to be stretched or a different dimension is required.

Rashford or Anthony Martial each offer speed and devilry at centre-forward, whether from the start or as an in-game tactical switch.

The dropping of the limited Fellaini would allow Carrick's more varied talents into the side. Beyond this, Bailly may need a breather as mistakes have began to creep in and Antonio Valencia can be limited at right-back.

5 UP THE TEMPO

To watch United and City at the moment is like witnessing an elephant and a leopard. Mourinho's team are lumbering, ideas-poor and second-rate virtually everywhere. Pep Guardiola's side seem to have 11 light-footed, brilliant-minded players who together form a terrifying unit that (so far) no opposition can quell.

Mourinho was correct to complain about the lack of pressing from his players on Sunday. Without the ball, United need to be more urgent and with it quicker in thought, passing and movement. These are the glittering base elements Guardiola's City are built upon.

Currently, United under Mourinho resemble United under Louis van Gaal, which is not what the fans or the owners desire at all.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'What Mourinho must do to stop the rot'. Print Edition | Subscribe