It is fair to say Jose Mourinho’s honeymoon phase at Manchester United has well and truly come to an end.
Following Sunday afternoon’s dismal 3-1 reverse to Watford at Vicarage Road, the Portuguese manager has now suffered three consecutive defeats in all competitions for the first time since 2006. United were ponderous in attack and vulnerable at the back as goals from Etienne Capoue, substitute Juan Camilo Zuniga and captain Troy Deeney rendered Marcus Rashford’s solitary strike a mere consolation. In a post-match interview, Mourinho was critical of referee Michael Oliver for allowing Watford’s first goal to stand, believing Anthony Martial was fouled by Miguel Britos in the build-up to Capoue’s strike. However, he pointed a finger at left-back Luke Shaw for failing to close down Nordin Amrabat in the move that led to the Hornets’ second of the game, thereby attributing the blame of the defeat to multiple parties. Even at this early stage, there are fears Mourinho is already experiencing his third-season syndrome and that does not radiate much positivity for the Old Trafford faithful.
Several shortcomings undid the visitors in Hertfordshire and it is imperative for the manager to analyse those problems and rectify them as soon as possible. Given Manchester City’s impeccable start to the season under Pep Guardiola, Mourinho will feel the heat from the club’s supporters and will be urged to take corrective measures in the games to follow.
Here are a few factors that resulted in a disappointing afternoon for the Red Devils:
The skipper was given a break on Thursday when United travelled to Rotterdam to take on Feyenoord in the Europa League. That mattered little as he put on a largely undistinguished show at Vicarage Road for his side. Rooney simply failed to add any value to United’s attacking endeavours and was guilty of making elementary errors. His performance was summed up by an unnecessary booking in the closing stages of the game, following a war of words with the linesman. It appears the 30-year-old’s stock has plummeted in recent years and with a massive chunk of blame for Sunday’s nightmare being flung his way, Mourinho will surely think twice before including him in his side’s next Premier League outing at home to Leicester City.
The 89-million-pound signing from Juventus hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to life in England and was largely ineffective yet again. Despite having had a thunderous 25-yard strike rattle the crossbar in the first half, Pogba created precious little for his side and was outrun and outmanoeuvred by his counterpart and countryman Etienne Capoue. It is now believed a change in formation will bring out the best in the 23-year-old and evidence of his inability to play in a deep-lying role could not have been any clearer to Mourinho.
As observed in the defeat to Feyenoord, United’s defence looked reluctant to step out of their comfort zone and press Watford high up the pitch. This proved to be the decisive factor in Watford’s second goal as Luke Shaw’s failure to deny Nordin Amrabat any room to operate resulted in Roberto Pererya ghosting past the backline and laying the ball to substitute Zuniga to curl past David De Gea. In the full-back’s defence, it was later discovered he had suffered a recurrence of a long-standing groin pull and could not close down his opposite number. However, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba were guilty of allowing Watford’s tormentors-in-chief to dictate play at crucial stages of the game and find gaps in midfield for them to exploit.
United’s body language post-Zuniga’s strike suggested the wind had been knocked out of their sails. Defeats to Manchester City and Feyenoord had clearly drained them of self-belief and that was exemplified in the move that led to Troy Deeney’s penalty. Fellow substitute Isaac Success outmuscled the otherwise assured Eric Bailly and Marouane Fellaini clumsily tripped Deeney to allow the hosts to seal the deal for good. Three defeats in eight days is catastrophic for a club of United’s stature and given the number of games coming up in quick succession, it is extremely important for Mourinho to instil some confidence.
United visit League One side Northampton Town in the EFL Cup next this Wednesday. Should the unthinkable happen, Mourinho and his men will be in serious trouble.