Eye On EPL

Not so special Mourinho must change

At the rate Jose Mourinho is going by deploying negative tactics, making puzzling decisions, criticising his players and picking fights with opposing managers, I fear that the new Manchester United boss will be the first managerial casualty of this season.

Looking at his players' body language in the startling 4-0 collapse at Chelsea on Sunday, there were plenty of bad signs that the Portuguese is losing his touch.

Results-wise, it was Mourinho's worst defeat in his 61/2 seasons in the English Premier League (EPL). The only other time his team conceded at least four goals was Chelsea's 3-5 loss to Tottenham on Jan 2 last year. It was also strange that he chose to start with hatchet man Marouane Fellaini instead of the creative Juan Mata, a switch he finally made after the half-time break.

The club has backed him with big signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the world-record fee of £89 million (S$151.6 million) for Paul Pogba but both players were anonymous at Stamford Bridge.

Since making a bright start as a Red Devil by scoring four goals in his first five league matches, the Swede has now gone 489 minutes without a goal. With only one EPL goal so far, the Frenchman has changed his hairstyle more frequently than he has scored.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of Mourinho's failures as a tactician was seeing how his former Chelsea players sizzled on the pitch in front of him on Monday. Eden Hazard played brilliantly against United. This is the same player who was the 2015 Player of the Year under Mourinho but suffered an alarming drop in form.

Since Chelsea fielded a largely similar squad last season, the main reason they performed differently was that they were led by Antonio Conte and not the man who calls himself the Special One.

A lot has already been said over the years of the Portuguese's management style and how he has been publicly critical of his own players.

The thrashing by Chelsea should be a strong wake-up call for him to evaluate his managerial methods and to question if it is he who should change and not so much his players.

So is Mourinho still the Special One?

In the first place, that is a title that he created for himself. But in recent years, he has failed to live up to that billing.

If he is seen as the saviour of United when he was appointed to turn things around, the rival managers, including Conte and Jurgen Klopp, have outshone him so far.

In fact, he is no better than the often-maligned Louis van Gaal, who was accused of deploying defensive tactics. Against Liverpool eight days ago, United were content to defend and played to a boring goal-less draw, which Mourinho felt was an achievement.

At this point last season, after nine matches under van Gaal, the team had recorded six victories, two more than Mourinho's count now.

It is still early in the season, yet if he wants to avoid suffering the same fate, he needs to employ a softer approach to win the loyalty of his players so that they will have the desire to fight for him.

Right now, he really is not that special any more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Not so special Mourinho must change'. Print Edition | Subscribe