You are the weakest link: Mourinho must not be ruled by the squad’s flaws

September 26, 2016 Tags: , , Reads 7 comments
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As the saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It certainly applies in football. For all a team’s strengths, opponents will target and exploit any weakness. World’s best attack? There’s little point if the midfield can’t deliver the ball or the defence can’t keep opponents from scoring. This is the difficulty of team building, as José Mourinho is discovering.

Manchester United’s summer was nothing short of stunning and had fans dreaming of a return to the glory of years gone by. Sir Alex Ferguson worked wonders with the squads he was given, building teams that were more than the sum of their parts. The Scot has proven to be the exception, not the rule. It’s why he was the greatest manager to have graced the game. Those times and traditions are now gone.

Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly arrived to much excitement, Ed Woodward pulling off a summer of transfer redemption after successive failed windows. United’s top man capped it off by the hiring a manager of equal distinction in Mourinho. This was supposed to be the dawn of the new era, dark days left behind.

The new dawn hasn’t arrived smoothly. Despite a bright start in the Premier League, a disastrous week featuring derby defeat, Europa League embarrassment and the Vicarage Road thumping left pundits wondering whether Mourinho had lost his magic. After all, this time last week he had presided over 13 defeats in his last 31 matches as manager.

Amid the hype that United’s swaggering new signings brought also came the need for a clear out of the squad’s deadwood, including Paddy McNair, Donald Love, Will Keane, Victor Valdes, and Nick Powell. Meanwhile, several youngsters were offered regular first team football on loan elsewhere.

Yet, offloading first team players on huge salaries proved to be a huge stumbling block for the club. This is the downside of the vast money flowing through the Premier League. If an English club isn’t interested, United’s unwanted are out of reach for most of the continent’s élite – or the Reds must subsidise players’ salaries to make exits happen.

Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Bastian Schweinsteiger and others were widely touted as available for transfer, but each earns between £70,000 and £240,000 per week. There are few rivals willing to match United’s wages. It leaves Jones, Rojo and perhaps others with another season to redeem themselves; and Schweinsteiger reportedly heading to the MLS, if a contract buyout with the club is arranged.

In this the ghosts of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal haunt the club. The players bought or retained under their  watch continues to have a residual negative impact on the first team.

The impact is stark as Mourinho rebuilds: Rojo’s inability to defend, Jones’ love’s of the treatment room, Marouane Fellaini’s evident limitations, and Wayne Rooney’s inevitable physical decline. Shiny new assets are well and good, but it’s the pieces around them that have haunted United in the club’s recent dark moments.

This endless cycle results in criticism from outside and in; and a sense of underlying mediocrity that will continue until weaknesses are removed from the team. If United’s summer acquisitions are the purring engine of an expensive car, it cannot function while the gearbox remains faulty.

"As the saying goes you’re only as strong as your weakest link. It certainly applies in football. For all a team’s strengths, opponents will target and exploit any weakness. Mourinho surgically removed two on Saturday and the outcome was good."

It’s that question of weakest links again. Indeed, one economic theory declares that productive tasks must be executed proficiently together in order for any of them to be of high value. Or to put this another way, according to O-Ring theory, people with similar skill levels must work together positively. If one part of the process fails, all suffer as a result. The theory explains why rich countries out produce poorer countries, and why supposedly good football teams sometimes fail.

Still, Saturday brought renewed hope, as the ecstasy of attacking football and the sweet taste of victory returned to the red side of Manchester. United became the first side in Premier League history to put four goals past a defending Champion in a half of football.

At times Moruinho’s side was scintillating, offering both one-touch passing and brilliant set piece execution. Yet, the common theme of this performance was not who was present, but arguably who wasn’t after Rooney and Fellaini dropped out of the team. It enabled the execution of a higher tempo and swift counter-attacking football.

Paul Pogba thrived alongside the superb Ander Herrera, whose passing from deep was a joy to watch. Pogba dominated the space vacated by Fellaini and particularly Rooney, offering support to a supposition many already believed. The Frenchman capped off a fine display by opening his goalscoring account with a smart header.

United’s display against Leicester City has brought new hope to a fanbase who had started to believe that another false dawn was underway. While it will take more than one thumping victory to prove Mourinho’s evolution is working, this was a hugely positive development.

Dual home clashes against FC Zorya and Stoke City could prove the point and the theory once more. Will Mourinho retain both his squad selection and the team’s style? After all, United cannot forever remain ruled by the team’s weakest links. Mourinho surgically removed two on Saturday and the outcome was good.


NazManUnited - September 26, 2016 Reply

MUFC have to deliver, for Mho the coin has dropped

Football Eistein 276 - September 27, 2016 Reply

Why is that, when I watched this exciting fast paced football, I felt sad rather than happy? We always knew what this new group is capable of, and they showed us that in a span of 5 minutes last Saturday. If this group does not get to play regularly as a unit and gel, we may not get to see the likes of this again for a while.

Fernando - September 27, 2016 Reply

IT ALL TAKES TIME.. we are not going to achieve our goals over night.. or in a week.. only time will tell and time is all we have! LETS GO RED DEVILS!!!

Sam - September 27, 2016 Reply

Great article. It was good to see Rooney rested/dropped at the weekend. I still think Wayne and moam can offer something but we need to let the stars shine at old Trafford not be dulled by limitation.

bobbynoble - September 27, 2016 Reply

To refer to the likes of Paddy McNair, Donald Love and Will Keane as deadwood is ridiculous.

Adam Joseph - October 24, 2016 Reply

actually, it was and is reality Bobby.

Ramnik Dhar - September 28, 2016 Reply

Well look at what Jurgen Klopp is achieving with liverpool who have a squad that has more flaws than United’s. Look how dortmound played last night against Real madrid with a squad brimming with young talent.The point is we should have gone with a manager who would have built a team rather than buy one.And also as far as the transfer market is concerned, I think it is time now united appointed a director of football and only those players should be brought into the club which fit our playing style.
When i see players like depay,schneiderlin,rojo,kagawa,schweinstieger, it irritates me more than anything.
I really think we should follow bayern munich’s model.

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