Beating Manchester City gives everyone a kick. Even if it’s just in the EFL Cup. But the buzz doesn’t last long when you fail to breach newly promoted Burnley’s defensive wall – despite having 72% possession, 37 shots and 19 corners.
“Smile of Mou” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by duysafari
There’s no doubt it was a frustrating afternoon for the Red Devils; you can be sure that the media will use the result to pile more pressure on José Mourinho and his players. On another day Burnley could have had a trouncing at Old Trafford, but goalkeeper Tom Heaton put in a superb performance to thwart United. In football, as you know, sometimes it’s just not your day.
Those of you betting at Betway would have noticed that United now sit at odds of 25/1 to win the league at the time of writing. This is fair considering it’s now an 8 point gap to the summit of the Premier League and the Red Devils took a maiming at Stamford Bridge recently. An 8 point gap is not insurmountable for a team in form, but the question currently is: Can Mourinho muster his troops to push on and perform while the pressure on him increases every day?
Having been sent to the stands on Saturday, after Matteo Darmian was not awarded a penalty for a clear foul by Burnley defender Jon Flanagan, Mourinho avoided the press room after the game by sending his assistant Rui Faria in his place. As he is already facing an FA charge, it was perhaps wise that José didn’t voice his opinion. Although the penalty shout was debatable, there’s no doubt that Ander Herrera’s red card for slipping over was an error on referee Mark Clattenburg’s part.
This is another example of the manager making the headlines rather than the team. The José Mourinho we see before us appears to be the guy that self-destructed as Chelsea manager, rather than the relentless winner he once was.
Mourinho’s Mind Games
Mourinho has a history of creating a siege mentality at the clubs he manages; it’s a tactic that has served him well in the past. He convinces those under his wing that opponents, rival managers, fans, officials and television pundits are all pitted against them. And that they need to fight them all, at all times, for everything they want to achieve.
Yet it’s a tactic that can only work if all those associated with the club believe that they are part of the collective fight. At this time, players such as Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Anthony Martial and particularly Henrikh Mkhitaryan are not enamoured with their manager’s strategies. Fans might also come to lose faith if the ‘us versus them’ attitude gives rise to a petulance that is in stark contrast to the imperturbable composure of the Ferguson era.
Mourinho is a brilliant manager, a master tactician with a fine team that should be developing into title winners. But the team is becoming associated with the occasional moodiness and cantankerousness of their manager.
Questions on the Pitch
Juan Mata was undoubtedly United’s best player against Burnley on Saturday, which made the decision to take him off after going down to ten men seem questionable.
There is a feeling that although Mata has been one of United’s best performers when selected, he still doesn’t totally have the manager’s faith after their time together at Chelsea. Mata is just one of a number of players not yet established as essential to the first team, but rather subject to rotation and experimentation.
There is a core to this United side who are likely to perform well: David de Gea in goal, Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind in defence, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera in midfield and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the attack. It’s the other roles that are not set in stone. Rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City have a recognised first 11 and have developed cohesion and understanding. Over at United, however, Mourinho is still dubious about a few positions.
A generally predictable team sheet with a quality bench of players ready to come on and make an impact is something United have regularly had in the past. The sooner the manager has that consistency, the better results will be.
Although Saturday’s outcome wasn’t what the team were hoping for, the Red Devils have now only lost one of their last seven games in all competitions. The fixtures come in thick and fast at this time of the year; we’ll be watching Mourinho as everyone’s attention turns to securing a place in the Europa League’s last 32.