7 Questions Mourinho needs to AddressAdded by Philip Meese on 29 Nov 2018 17:30
A look at some burning issues within Old Trafford that Mourinho needs to answer.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
The storm clouds are gathering over Old Trafford, despite their qualification to the Champions League knockout round. It’s not been pretty this season, even less so than last year. Manchester United were out of the title race by the end of September, and out of the League Cup at the first hurdle.
There are some burning issues that are bugging the fans, which have regularly come up on Social Media this season. To date, nobody seems to be able to answer any of these questions.
Why is Valencia the club captain?
Antonio Valencia has developed into one of the most pointless footballers in the Premier League. When he arrived at Old Trafford in 2009, he was a powerful, pacey winger with pinpoint crossing ability. Within six months of his arrival, Wayne Rooney had more than trebled the amount of headed goals he had scored throughout his career.
Fast forward to 2018 and what United are left with is a winger converted to a full-back, who isn’t the best defensively and has seemingly developed a phobia of crossing the ball, preferring to cut it back to someone else when in a good position. Throw into the mix the fact that he still hasn’t learnt fluent English, having been in the country for over 12 years, and you must ask why he is the official club captain. It’s not as though he is leading by example, in fact he’s barely played this season. In fact, he hasn’t been the same player since handing back the number 7 shirt.
Surely the captain of Manchester United should be someone who is going to play every week, which at the age of 33 seems unlikely for Valencia even if he a certain Instagram post recently. The club skipper should also be someone who fluently speaks the same language as the rest of his team mates. Most importantly, it should be a player who is seen as a key player in the team. Valencia does not tick the box any of those categories, so why is he wearing the armband?
In summary, he’s not great at defending, offers nothing in attack and, at the age of 33, is hardly in his prime. United need a captain who can lead the club over the next five to ten years. Valencia is not that captain.
What exactly has Eric Bailly done wrong?
Ask any United fan who they think the best centre back at the club is, and it’s likely they will say Eric Bailly. When he joined the club from Villarreal in 2016, it looked like Mourinho had found a bargain. Here was a defender with the aggression of Nemanja Vidić, the athleticism of Rio Ferdinand and more pace than either of them in their prime. He hasn’t kicked a ball for United in almost two months.
The warning signs were there last season, when Bailly was consistently left out towards the end of the campaign. When Phil Jones gave away a penalty in the F.A. Cup Final, the wisdom of this was questioned (and still is). This season he seems to have been made a scapegoat. In the defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, Bailly’s rash challenge gave away a penalty in what was already an awful performance. In fairness, that’s how a lot of penalties are conceded. Against Newcastle, with United 2-0 down, Bailly was withdrawn even though neither goal was his fault – Ashley Young was culpable for both.
You also have to ask what Bailly has done to receive such treatment, given that he looked superb in his first two seasons at United. It’s also worth pointing out that Bailly was a José Mourinho signing, who a lot of fans believe is one of the few players at the club who is of the required calibre expected of a United player.
The fact that United conceded less than thirty league goals in each of the last two seasons, when Bailly was a regular, is worthy of note. This season, when the Ivory Coast international has hardly played, they have already conceded 21. The message seems clear, the team needs Eric Bailly.
What’s the deal with Pereira?
This is a strange one. Mourinho made a big song and dance about the fact that Andreas Pereira went on a second loan spell last season. After spending 2016-17 at Granada, he spent last season at Valencia and impressed in both spells. After impressing in the pre-season tour of the USA, he started United’s first two games of the season. Since then, he has made just three substitute appearances. He did well against Leicester City but, like most of the team, didn’t against Brighton. He must have done something right as he made his debut for Brazil the same month.
A lot of the fans on social media have been saying he should be playing, and it’s clear that United need something different. It’s hard to say, however, that Pereira should play because nobody has seen enough of him to judge if he is good enough. But he should be given a chance, at least.
If he isn’t going to be given opportunities, what was the point in keeping him at the club, and why did Mourinho seem to be so upset when he went on loan last season? Is he just punishing him for going against his wishes, or is that now he has seen him up close in training, has concluded that he isn’t good enough?
What does Matić have to do to be dropped?
Mourinho has always had his favourites over the years, players who are seemingly undroppable, regardless of how bad their form is. Nemanja Matić would seem to fall into this category right now, even though he is probably in the worst form of anyone in the team right now.
Last season, the Serbian was one of United’s best outfield players. He brought a calm authority to the midfield, protected the defence and would have made a good choice as captain. This season is a totally different story, as Matić is becoming a liability. He had surgery in the summer and looks like he has lost a yard of pace, when he wasn’t exactly blessed with it to start with.
At first many people thought it was while he was getting his match fitness back, but as the season progresses, he seems to be getting worse. Against Young Boys on Tuesday night he was not only poor with his passing, but slow to react to passes from his team mates, which resulted in United conceding possession on several occasions.
Everyone is entitled to go through a bad patch of form, it happens to most players. At most clubs those players are dropped, with someone else given a chance. What is baffling, particularly as some players are dropped after just one average performance, is that no matter how poor Matić plays his name seems to be set in stone on the team sheet. It can’t be a coincidence that his dip in form and United’s suddenly leaky defence have happened in the same season.
What was the point of buying Fred?
United’s biggest signing of the summer was Brazilian international midfielder Fred, a £52 million transfer from Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Like Pereira, Fred also started United’s first two games of the season and was dropped after the Brighton game. He has featured more than his international team mate, and even scored his first Premier League goal against Wolves.
It’s almost as though Mourinho is easing him into the team, trying to get him used to the rigors of English football. The truth is that he doesn’t really need it as he has looked decent, admittedly not spectacular, in the games that he has played. Against Young Boys, he was the only one trying to play the ball forward, and yet he was substituted to keep Matić on the pitch. Surely giving Fred a run of games, especially when nobody in United’s midfield is doing anything special, would surely be the best way to get him bedded in?
United need something different, because what they have tried so far clearly isn’t working. Playing week in, week out might remind Mourinho why he bought him in the first place.
Why are contracts being handed out to players who should be cleared out?
There have been a lot of average players at Old Trafford over the last seven or eight years. A lot of these players wouldn’t have got into any of the United sides that conquered the Premier League or Europe over the years. They aren’t winners and are certainly don’t possess the talent to play for a club the size of United.
Marcos Rojo was given a new deal earlier this year and has yet to feature for the club this season. He has played more games for Argentina than the club who pay his wages. Despite his late winner on Tuesday night, there are very few United fans who would be sorry to see the back of Marouane Fellaini, who only signed the contract United offered him when he realised no other big club was interested.
Reports suggest that United are having talks with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young, and will trigger the one-year extension for Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian. Given that none of these players have come anywhere near putting together a Premier League title challenge in the last five years, the only reason the club should be extending their deals is to get a sell-on fee. The only reason Smalling and Jones have got Premier League winners’ medals is because they were part of a defence that included Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand.
In the meantime, United have on David de Gea’s contract, while they attempt to negotiate a new long term deal. Reports suggest that he wants around £350,000 a week. If this is the case, given that he is the only proven world class player at Old Trafford, they should have no hesitation. He is the only member of United’s squad that earns his money every single week. United should prioritise this over renewing the contract of players who should have been cleared out long ago.
What is actually happening in training?
Look at the slow, lethargic patterns of play that United have displayed this season. Is that what they work on in training? Is Mourinho happy with what he is seeing in front of him on the pitch? The fans certainly aren’t, hence, a crowd of less than 73,000 at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
It’s bad enough that Manchester City and Liverpool are not only better than United but playing a brand of football that gets people off their seats. Mourinho’s side play boring, pedestrian football that nobody wants to watch; there is nothing exciting about it. Do they work in training to bore the opposition to death and then try to nick a goal?
The emphasis seems to focus on United stopping the opposition scoring, rather than letting the players express themselves. Their attacking players have proved time and time again that they have goals in them, and United fans would accept the lack of serious contention for trophies a lot more readily if they were at least watching exciting football.
If Mourinho hopes to make a success of his time at Manchester United, maybe he should consider the points above. Each one addresses an issue that is niggling the fans on a big scale, because they all seem to be affecting the current plight of the club.
Big changes are needed at Old Trafford, and the sooner some, preferably all, of the above issues are resolved, the sooner the United fans might not spend every game posting on Facebook and Twitter about the state the club is in.
If José Mourinho doesn’t address at least some of those issues, he might find that the “Third Season Syndrome” that dogged his spells at Real Madrid and Chelsea strikes again.