No one said it would be easy. But no one said it’d be this hard. As José Mourinho’s side fumbled its way through another disappointing night in Europe, the few remaining onlookers who thought everything would be back to normal this time around suffered a rude awakening. There is, apparently, no quick fix to the problems facing Manchester United, the self-proclaimed “biggest club in the world.”
It seems that money to spend and the right manager in place can only go so far, and while Mourinho must shoulder some of the blame, many of his players have performed poorly in recent weeks. The result: United’s slide down the Premier League table after a promising start to the season.
It is difficult to pinpoint the root cause of all United’s problems, although the manger believes that much of it is psychological. Indeed, this has manifested itself in United’s results. Mourinho side has not managed to come from behind to win any games this season, and too many of his players gave up in Turkey on Thursday night after the home side took the lead inside two minutes.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]As José Mourinho’s side fumbled its way through another disappointing night in Europe, the few remaining onlookers who thought everything would be back to normal this time around suffered a rude awakening.[/blockquote]
The steel that set the team apart in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era is long gone. There is no siege mentality and intimidation in the tunnel prior to games has been replaced by handshakes and rehearsed high five routines. Even Mourinho’s ‘us against the world’ line no longer resonates with United’s players.
Perhaps it is the pressure of playing for United, knowing that failure will bring another set of lurid headlines. The overreaction that United generates is nothing new, yet too many of the squad suffer from symptoms not dissimilar from those that the England national team displays on the big stage.
“A team that concedes after two minutes is not ready, not mentally prepared, not focussed, not concentrated,” Mourinho said in the aftermath of defeat in Istanbul. “We can also speak about the number of goals that we don’t score. Not the number of goals we score, the number we don’t. Sometimes teams don’t score goals because of their philosophy, because the team isn’t aggressive enough and doesn’t risk enough. That’s not our case, that’s not our case at all. It is also easy to see that some of players in our attacking areas lack confidence; they’re not sharp and getting the chances that they can”.
It’s a problem Mourinho must solve quickly. Yet, whatever United’s weaknesses, it was not mental attitude that led to a scoreless draw against Burnley last weekend, where the Reds could not find the net despite taking 37 shots. Indeed, United has scored from just once from the last 91 shots on goal in the Premier League. Mourinho’s team is creating chances and playing entertaining football, but falling short of the dreams envisioned when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was recruited in the summer.
There are other challenges. Mourinho still does not know his best team. Worryingly, it feels as though his best chance may be to stumble upon as a result of injuries or suspensions. Yet, United’s visit to Swansea on Sunday provides an opportunity for some of the squad’s fringe players to take a claim. There can be no better opportunity that to knock a struggling Swansea side for six. Sunday’s game could provide the platform to build some much needed confidence.
New Swans manager Bob Bradley has been in charge for just three games – and won none. It may only be November, but Swansea already look in serious trouble and will struggle to survive relegation should current form continue.
“There needs to be a mentality not the least bit afraid, that still understands every time we step on the field this is the chance to turn things around, not one that hides that part of it,” said Bradley.
Still, it is a team that boasts a very good record over the Reds since promotion to the Premier League in 2012, winning three of the last four fixtures between the sides.
Mourinho knows that Sunday’s game will be tough, although this is no time for shrinking personalities in what has become a ‘must win’ game. Goals are needed too. To collect points, to build confidence, whatever the obvious nature of the cliché. It could kick start the Reds’ stuttering season. After all, Mourinho’s side faces a team that has conceded at least two goals in seven of the last nine matches.
Swansea subs from: Amat, Britton, Baston, Nordfeldt, Rangel, Cork, James
United subs from: Romero, Rojo, Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin, Mkhitaryan, Memphis, Rooney, Ibrahimovic
United’s inconsistency and fragile mental state is a concern, but Swansea represents an opportunity to gain some much needed confidence. The Reds lie seven points off fourth spot in the Premier League table, and anything other than a win on Sunday will create a significant doubt about the club’s ability to get back into the Champions League.
Mourinho’s team must do it with some important absences. Matteo Darmian again stands in for Antonio Valencia, while Chris Smalling is doubtful with an injury sustained in the defeat to Chelsea. Marcos Rojo has replaced the Englishman in the past two matches, although his performances have been typically inconsistent. The Argentinian even attempted to score from around 40 yards against the Clarets – in the 92nd minute! Rojo could be replaced by the returning Phil Jones.
In midfield United could be without both Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera. Michael Carrick starts in place of the suspended Herrera, while Marouane Fellaini is set to deputise for the injured Pogba. The Belgian has offered very little in recent weeks, although the other option – Morgan Schniederlin – will surely be dropped after being brutally substituted at half-time in Turkey. It may prove to be the final act of the Frenchman’s United career.
Juan Mata starts at 10 after being relegated to the bench in Turkey. Mata has performed well this season and his substitution with 20 minutes to go against Burnley was probably as costly to United as Herrera’s dismissal.
Further forward, Zlatan Ibrahimović will be fortunate to retain his place after another lacklustre performance against Fenerbahce. The Swede is so far off the pace that he is beginning to look every day of his 35 years. Despite the poor performances, Ibrahimović is almost always selected – and many feel that the Swede could have been managed in a more productive way.
Mourinho might have even replaced the labouring Ibrahimović with United’s biggest attacking asset, Marcus Rashford, had the youngster not missed the trip to Swansea. Mourinho has shunted the academy graduate to the left or right to accommodate Ibrahimović this season. If United is to save a season already on the brink, Rashford must surely be let off his leash.
Anthony Martial may continue on the left after coming away from Thursday night’s performance with some credit. The Frenchman was a constant threat and his partnership with Rashford could bear fruit in the coming months. Jesse Lingard starts on the right after Mourinho’s very public criticism of Henrik Mkhitaryan following Thursday’s defeat. The Armenian has a fight on his hands to save his United career.
United supporters could have few complaints after the Burnley game bar the lack of goals, but the lack of will to win on Thursday night will concern everyone. Mourinho cannot allow the mental weaknesses he noted against Fenerbahce to set in at Old Trafford.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Assistants: S Ledger, M Wilkes
Fourth Official: R East
Swansea 1-2 United