This season was supposed to be different for Manchester United. With the appointment of the often bombastic yet equally brilliant Jose Mourinho, it looked like things would finally improve for a club struggling to move on from the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The team was bolstered by the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, two world-class players who were expected to rejuvenate a struggling offense. All in all, things were looking up for one of the finest teams in England. And then reality struck.
Roughly a quarter into the season, the Red Devils are provisionally sitting in eighth place and are five points behind the top four. Traditional rivals Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are all ahead of United, a bitter point that surely does not sit well with anyone at Old Trafford.
The team has failed to win a game in the Premier League since Sept. 24, when Manchester United thumped defending champions Leicester City 4-1, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case.
After initially fitting in well, Ibrahimovic has looked utterly lost and unsure of his role with the team. Despite the fact that he has taken the most shots on goal, Ibrahimovic is simply unable to score. The Swede is currently mired in his worst scoring drought since 2007, a telling sign that the 35-year old is reaching the end of a prolific career.
While Ibrahimovic’s woes are rather bad for him, they pale in comparison to those of his teammate Pogba. At the time of his transfer I stated that Manchester United was far overpaying for a player of his caliber, and to date I have not seen any evidence I was wrong.
Pogba looks nothing like a player who is worth €105 million. In nine league games, he has scored exactly one goal. He looks uncomfortable in his role and it is evident Mourinho does not know how to best utilize the Frenchman.
While Pogba and Ibrahimovic are both struggling, it is important to note captain Wayne Rooney has also been having a very trying season. In fact, Mourinho has dropped Rooney from his starting lineup.
Rooney has not been the same player since the departure of Ferguson and last season’s fiascos — when then-manager Louis Van Gaal employed the striker as a midfielder — and it now appears that Rooney has become all muddled up.
While Mourinho publicly insists Rooney is still important to his plans, the writing is on the wall for England’s captain. Rumors constantly abound that Rooney will be shipped out at the winter deadline, possibly returning to boyhood club Everton.
Under Mourinho, Manchester United looks somewhat confused. While the team has adapted fairly well to his philosophy of “parking the bus,” a term used to describe the tactic of being defensive minded against highly offensive teams, there still are moments where it is very clear the team is still getting used to its new manager.
Mourinho himself admitted that life in Manchester is not really what he expected it to be, at one point saying he is very lonely there. It is a stark contrast to his counterpart at Manchester City Pep Guardiola, who has said he utterly loves life in Manchester.
The Portuguese manager has already managed to land himself in trouble a few times. The FA levied a charged for his pre-match comments before facing Liverpool, and he was sent to the stands for the second half of the Burnley game.
Compared to his antics at Chelsea, Mourinho has been relatively calm, but it is still a problem when a manager’s actions are attracting more attention than the results of his team.
One surprising bright spot to come out of Manchester so far has been Juan Mata. If you remember, Mata and Mourinho have a colored history, but it does not appear to be affecting either. In fact, Mata has been captaining the team in Rooney’s absence and the tiny Spaniard is rapidly becoming one of United’s most important players.
It is still relatively early in the Mourinho era at Manchester United, but it is safe to say fans are disappointed with what the “Special One” has to offer. In fact, the much-maligned successor to Ferguson, David Moyes, actually had a better record than Mourinho the first nine games of the season.
If things do not turn around soon, fans will be facing yet another season without Champions League football and the prospect of seeing rivals like City or Liverpool surpass the team in relative greatness, a far cry from the glory days of Ferguson.
Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday.
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