A first half brace from Romelu Lukaku was enough for Manchester United to get past Burnley on their trip to Turf Moor last weekend.
Jose Mourinho will be a relieved man, as his side showed decent fight after losing back to back games against Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton before this weekend. That result at Turf Moor will give them some confidence going into the rest of the season but do Manchester United look a threat for the league title? Are they capable of turning around their mediocre start and stitch a winning run that can push local rivals Manchester City to the coveted trophy?
At the moment, there is only one answer. With Liverpool and Manchester City, along with Chelsea showing great grit at the start of the season, Manchester United are already playing catch-up. But what is more frustrating for the Red Devils camp is the way Mourinho seems to be losing grip on the dressing room, in what is his third season at Old Trafford.
The Portuguese manager has a ‘third season syndrome’ which saw him kicked out of Stamford Bridge on two separate occasions, in his third year with Chelsea. He did win silverware in each of those stints but that was not enough to save him from the sack. At United, he has already won the Europa League and the FA Cup in his first season at the club, but went trophyless last season. However, he helped the club finish 2nd, which gave the fans hope for the current season.
But like at Chelsea, Mourinho has already started feeling the heat, and back to back losses have only made the situation worse. In London, Mourinho started to think about the short term, and left out youngsters who were promising. He wanted experienced stars to get the things done for his side but the way he deals with players that do not fit his requirements saw a few senior stars in the squad show an aversion to him.
Arguably one of the most decorated managers in the history of the game, Mourinho is usually outspoken about what he wants from players and is never afraid of throwing them under the scope, openly in the media. While such criticism does help a few players, it reduces the confidence of a few, which was a serious issue in Mourinho’s third season with the Blues, on both occasions.
He may not have favourites in his squad but is definitely not impartial and when there is a divide among the squad, it can only lead the team down. The same happened at Chelsea and the same seems to be happening at Old Trafford this year.
Mourinho has often criticized Luke Shaw for various reasons but is now sticking with him as his first choice left-back. The lack of summer spending may be a reason but Mourinho does not seem totally convinced with the squad at his disposal, which makes his job all the more frustrating.
He is having to employ players who are not his first choice, which does not bode well to Mourinho’s tactics. And when that happens, the former Real Madrid manager is usually left asking too many questions of the squad, which can only be answered by replacing him.
Mourinho needs his star players to perform on a consistent basis but in his stint at Old Trafford, he has very few players in the first team that are perfect for his system. The amount of influence Nemanja Matic has had is an example of what players can achieve if they settle into this style of play. But players like Paul Pogba have shown that it is not system that everyone can master. The French international has been underwhelming for more than a couple of years now and has started the current season rather aimlessly. To add to these issues, the summer signings for Mourinho have not been at their best, and it is evident that a few of them were not his first choice.
And like at Chelsea, he is yet against thinking about the short terms, as is clear with the signing of Alexis Sanchez in January. He is yet to let go of Anthony Martial but the French international does not seem to be in his plans, but he remains one of the most gifted players at the club. Juan Mata still remains the best playmaker at the club but he was once sold by Mourinho (at Chelsea) and would have been shown the door again had United found an able replacement for him in the summer.
So apart from losing the dressing room, Mourinho has a new issue this year of not being backed by the Manchester United board. He does have it in him to get United back to the top even with the resources that he has but a couple of more losses will mount pressure on Mourinho, which could start his demise.
The amount of quality United have in their squad, they should be competing for the title and playing catch up this early in the season will only frustrate the owners. So a couple of wrong moves from Mourinho will put him under the scanner and unless there is a real upturn in form, he might not get another transfer window at Old Trafford.
Photo by Aleksandr Osipov