Jose has hit his first soft patch as coach at United. Of course, this means he’s incompetent and should be sacked tomorrow. Or, at least, he feels that’s what we the media are suggesting. Thus far, his pressers have been tame by Jose standards, but, as per usual, he has blamed his players (though reservedly so), the referee(s), and the prior coach. Basically, everybody but himself.
And yet this is what you get when Mou comes to town. As a Real Madrid fan, I know this too well.
Mou talks like he wants United to challenge for the EPL title and certainly wants us to believe that’s the goal – but, with only a handful of signings over the summer, that’s not realistic. Ibrahimovic should add 15-20 EPL goals which will help, and Bailly at CB will result in five less gaffes=goal moments than Daley Blind. Still, that’s only a difference of twenty goals from last year. We only scored 49 goals in 38 league games last year. (Even Moyes’ side knocked in more than sixty goals!)
Unlike Mourinho claims, you don’t have to be a Football Einstein to see what ails United: we lack creative, attacking spark in attack. Ever since Ronaldo left, the team has made due with competent wingers like Nani and even Ashley Younger (of many years ago), but no world beater has gotten his cleats chalk-white by staying wide on the touchline. Mata has been a consistent two-way player, and Martial offers a burst of speed, but both have deficits to their game when tossed out wide.
Here is where you say: the team passes sideways too much! Then we make a joke about LVG. But here’s the reality: you look to pass sideways when you are not very good at dribbling. A part of that is tactics and instruction and competence. Another part, though, is capability. If you dribble and lose the ball often, your teammates and coach berate you. It’d be nice to ascribe the offensive problems to LVG yelling at players to pass to centerbacks in training, but it’s deeper than that.
Even worse, Mourinho’s team is incredibly slow in the center of the park. Yes, Mourinho favors tall and powerful players, but Fellaini, like Matic at Chelsea, gets caught up field too often and is too easily turned by quick attackers to truly hold down the fort as a defensive anchor. Nimble players with excellent lateral movement like Esteban Cambiasso or Claude Makelele thrive in this role. In fact, that’s what makes Sergio Busquets so unique – he’s tall and lanky like Carrick, but moves side to side with incredible balance and grace.
Fellaini is working hard for the team, but one has to wonder if the passing of Carrick would not free up Pogba to roam forward like at Juventus. Also, Mourinho’s bigger tactical and personnel dilemma is living legend Wayne Rooney – a useful player that can still deliver a killer final ball, but lacks the pace to carve out space for his own shot vs. League One defenders. Playing a variant of a 4-4-2 to accommodate an assist machine like Ozil made sense at Real Madrid (it was more of a 4-2-3-1), but Rooney is a fading light, a shell of the player he once was and he never reached the heights we hoped for.
Across the city, Pep Guardiola’s clear tactical ideas and key signings have propelled Citeh forward, but he also had the gall to dump Yaya Toure. Why? Because soccer at an elite level requires players of class who are in form – Rooney loses the ball too much to play in midfield, and can’t carve out a shot as a striker should. Yes, Mou can pigeonhole him to the right (like SAF did) instead of Mata, but why?
If spells at Chelsky and Madrid are any guide, this season is a soapbox car on training wheels. Mou is kicking the tires. By season’s end, United should be back in the UCL, but not much higher. Then, after a second summer of turnover, next season is when a title run begins in earnest.