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Vishakh’s latest “The Manchester Musings” column.
A close loss at home to Manchester City was acceptable in the eyes of most fans.
Losing away in Europe to Feyenoord? Frustrating, but if we win our home matches we should be fine, plus we’ve struggled away in Europe for many years.
Losing away to Watford in the manner which we did? Okay, now there’s an issue.
Three losses in a week has piled the pressure back onto Jose Mourinho and Manchester United, as well as countless articles online about where things are going wrong.
Everybody has their opinion, and as a long-standing United fan, here are five things I think/observe.
Improve the tempo
Many thought that the arrival of Mourinho would immediately lift the mood among fans (true), but more importantly, change the slow/ponderous style of football that Louis Van Gaal served up.
I don’t think we realised how deep-rooted that is until now.
Two years of Van Gaal on the training pitch would naturally have affected how the team sets up and plays, and it looks like Mourinho will take longer to shake the cobwebs.
United have sat back and offered the opponent space/time without really introducing a high press consistently, and there hasn’t really been any fast paced attacking football for 90 minutes – however I’m sure this will change once the right players are in the right system.
Mourinho’s default formation is a 4-3-3 with solid defenders, a physical striker, a defensive midfielder who cleans up, and support from midfield.
All of these are available to him at United, yet he has persisted with a 4-2-3-1 with players out of position and a game plan that looks unclear from the sidelines.
It might be time to revert back to basics.
One way of enabling a 4-3-3 is to introduce Schneiderlin back into the line-up.
When United signed him, fans were delighted as this was the defensive midfielder who could break up play (through brain/brawn), set the tempo, and also control – a Busquets lite.
Instead we got a player that seemed to lose confidence by being benched.
Reintroducing Schneiderlin (and propping his confidence) would allow Mourinho to allow his attacking players to flourish.
Schneiderlin has shown a few tendencies to switch off at certain periods though – but if made a key player (as he was at Southampton) would go a long way in improving the style of play.
Us vs them.
This was a defining feature of United under Ferguson – everybody’s out to get us, so go out there and prove how good we are.
Don’t worry about what they say, just do your thing properly.
Personally, I think a little bit of confrontation might be good for modern players, but it is a risky game to play – it could go the way of Simeone at Atletico Madrid or Mourinho at Chelsea last season.
One thing that has to remain is managerial control though – absolute trust.
And finally, to my last point.
There is a reason that a striker who has been with the club for 10+ years, led the club to glory in all competitions, and is 3 goals away from breaking the club’s all time scoring record, is still treated with suspicion by fans.
Admittedly, the trysts with City and Chelsea didn’t help, but it also because his on-field performance has never been the same since about 2012.
For a couple of seasons, Rooney would be a 6/10 for 89 minutes, but would still have the quality to chip in with a goal or assist – and the rest would get overlooked.
Now however, his physical condition has dropped, and as a result his footballing condition. Poor first touches, slowing the game down, lack of pace, you name it.
Yet, as captain he seems immune from criticism.
First he was a striker, then moved to a number 10, and then to a midfielder despite being at least third-best in all positions.
You have to question the number of players (and quality) who have left the club in direct competition for a place with Rooney – namely Hernandez, van Persie, Kagawa, Berbatov among others.
Mourinho has played Rooney mainly at number 10 – but in what world is Rooney is an elite number 10 like Ozil or De Bruyne?
I could go on and on, but one last point.
Rooney’s friendship with the media has meant that they too, largely overlook his poor performances.
Many of the leaks over the past few years have had his name behind it – the number of stories that came out when van Gaal left, the post-Euros debacle, and now the ‘senior players are appalled’ stories about Mourinho.
I am pretty sure both van Gaal/Mourinho were/are aware of the Rooney problem – but will Mourinho act upon it? Watch this space.
Written by Vishakh Chandrasekhar
Follow Vishakh on Twitter @VishC24
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