EPL countdown: No star signings and a poor pre-season are worrying signs for Jose Mourinho

Alexis Sanchez is one of only three X-factor players - Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku being the other two - at Jose Mourinho's disposal. Pep Guardiola can call on nine City stars such as Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem
Alexis Sanchez is one of only three X-factor players - Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku being the other two - at Jose Mourinho's disposal. Pep Guardiola can call on nine City stars such as Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and new signing Riyad Mahrez.PHOTO: REUTERS

The fourth part of the build-up to the season starting on Friday With no star signings and a poor pre-season, United's credentials as title challengers look remote

LONDON • As Jose Mourinho enters his third season with Manchester United following a less-than-ideal pre-season and short of the players he wants, the Portuguese's complaints are serving to galvanise rivals while demoralising his own players.

But, in fairness to the United manager, he has a point with regard to the club's transfer business.

So far this summer, Fred, a £43.7 million (S$77.4 million) Brazil-reserve midfielder, and Diogo Dalot, a £19 million 19-year-old Portuguese full-back, are his only major purchases.

Goalkeeper Lee Grant also arrived from Stoke City for £1.5 million, but is unlikely to be more than a backup to No. 1 David de Gea and Sergio Romero.

That is underwhelming business for a club aiming to topple champions Manchester City.

Mourinho began the summer targeting younger, more dynamic options at full-back.

  • KEY GAMES

  • Aug 27 Tottenham (Home)

    Oct 20 Chelsea (A)

    Nov 10 Man City (A) 

    Dec 4 Arsenal (H)

    Dec 15 Liverpool (A)

    Jan 12 Tottenham (A)

    Feb 23 Liverpool (H)

    Mar 9 Arsenal (A) 

    Mar 16 Man City (H)

    Apr 27 Chelsea (H)

He believes that, for United to surge forward, as City will do via Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young - both 33 when the campaign starts - have to be upgraded.

Part of management is improving players and here Mourinho must accept responsibility. He has not done what Guardiola has, to offer one case, with Sterling; turning an erratic performer and finisher into a 23-goal forward.

Instead, he acquired the untested Dalot and was informed by Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, that there will be no more additions in the position.

Since last summer, Mourinho has also wanted a wide forward, but just as a deal for Inter Milan's Ivan Perisic collapsed then, there appears scant appetite from Woodward to prise him away this year.

  • MANCHESTER UNITED'S TRANSFER BALANCE

  • -£43.5m

    KEY SIGNING: FRED

    Midfielder (£43.7 million; S$77.4 million): The Brazilian was impressive in his first start in a United shirt in the 2-1 pre-season win over Real Madrid. He was calm under pressure and, more importantly for his manager Jose Mourinho, he was willing to track back when needed.

    The 25-year-old is a good passer and, with his defensive contribution in the middle of the park, Paul Pogba may be given the licence to roam forward to devastating effect for United.

    KEY PLAYERS IN

    • Lee Grant, goalkeeper (Stoke, £1.5m)

    • Diogo Dalot, defender (Porto, £19m)•

    KEY PLAYERS OUT

    • Sam Johnstone, goalkeeper (West Brom, £6.5m)

    • Daley Blind, defender (Ajax, £14.2m)

Mourinho may yet add the centre-back he wants by acquiring Leicester's Harry Maguire or Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld, although that has to be done in just two days with the transfer window shutting earlier on Thursday.

But to close trading short of an A-list full-back and forward would surely make title aspirations distant. Put simply, the squad require more stardust.

Mourinho has only three X-factor footballers: Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku.

Pep Guardiola, on the other hand, can call on nine City stars: David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Walker, Mendy, Raheem Sterling and new signing Riyad Mahrez.

Yet, part of management is improving players and here Mourinho must accept responsibility.

He has not done what Guardiola has, to offer one case, with Sterling; turning an erratic performer and finisher into a 23-goal forward who was key in City's record championship triumph.

Under Mourinho, the list of those enhanced might start with Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly and Lukaku, but it then ends abruptly.

Even Marcus Rashford, a bright light before Mourinho's arrival, has gone sideways.

The pattern is similar regarding recruitment. Since taking over in 2016, Mourinho has signed Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nemanja Matic, Pogba, Lukaku, Sanchez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Victor Lindelof, Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant.

Of those who have played, only Matic, Bailly and Lukaku can be deemed successes. Pogba is most indicative of Mourinho's lack of success in the transfer market.

Having struggled at United since returning to the club for a then world-record £93.2 million fee in August 2016, the midfielder was outstanding for France during their triumphant World Cup campaign, suggesting the manager rather than the player is the problem at Old Trafford.

And the former has hardly done himself any favours here by applying more stick than carrot when asked about Pogba's form in Russia.

Pogba needs to approach each match as if it were a final, was the essence of Mourinho's analysis.

This may be true but where was the praise to balance this and offer Pogba the sort of encouragement that might see him perform better for United?

Whether the reasons are valid or not, Mourinho's mood has plunged south early - even before the season has kicked off. With a new campaign around the corner, this is hardly the time to be downbeat.

All in all, it does not augur well for United's hopes or Mourinho's long-term job prospects.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline 'Signs not pointing in Mourinho's way'. Print Edition | Subscribe