As the Premier League steps into its chock-a-block winter phase, few managers would be facing as much strain as José Mourinho at Manchester United.
In spite of a credible midweek draw against a burgeoning Arsenal side, United sit in eighth place, eighteen points behind leaders Manchester City and eight adrift of the nearest Champions League place. Almost halfway through a season which has so far given little source of joy to the swathes of United fans, here’s a look at the major issues that have piled up for José, and what the future holds for him.
As Mourinho evocatively expressed in his comments prior to the Arsenal game, this Manchester United squad has not had the reinforcements of the kind the other top-six sides have made. The current squad at his disposal lacks matchwinning quality, as has been amply reflected this season.
The ex-Real Madrid boss has pointed the blame at the Manchester United vice chairman Ed Woodward for his inability to secure targets in the close season, but the fact is that only three of the players who started the Arsenal game have been acquisitions made by Mourinho in the past three years. The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba have also flattered to deceive, struggling to play to the level expected of them. The January transfer window should see a much required splurge to fill the gaps.
José Mourinho is known for a pragmatic brand of football, but that brand has seen a stern test this season. His team has been called out time and again for its sluggish build-up play and its lack of attacking intent.
United have often completed spectacular turnarounds this season, most notably at Turin against mighty Juventus, but they have also been torn apart easily by both Manchester City in the derby last month, and by Tottenham earlier in the season. It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will bring any significant tactical overhauls to silence the rising groans around Old Trafford.
Dressing room tensions
The distrust between Mourinho and his talismanic midfielder Paul Pogba has been a hot topic of discussion from even before the season began.
While the Frenchman has publicly spoke about his dissatisfaction with the management and the style of play, his boss created another storm by removing Pogba from his list of team captains. Reports suggest further clashes after United’s recent league stalemate against Southampton as a result of the midfielder’s underwhelming performance. He has also drawn public ire for questioning the experience of players like Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard, leading to further questions about the dressing room morale.
Mourinho would know that the only way to turn around that morale is by regaining the winning spirit, which could go a long way in turning around this season’s fortunes.