Mourinho blames defensive mistake as Chelsea thump Manchester United
United probably have most to lose at Old Trafford. It is their game, they have lost to their rivals on home turf already this season, and a consequence of the bright start before the
Manchester City slump means Guardiolas side at least retain their position as league leaders. Neither side will be enormously bothered about staying in the EFL Cup, though with comparisons already being wheeled out to suggest the opening period of Mourinhos tenure is no better than that of David Moyes, it is United who appear to be on the brink of managerial meltdown.
Guardiola could simply be
struggling with the demands of English football, in particular the number of games. He has suggested that himself, particularly the difficulty of finding time for rest and recovery when every fixture is a 90-minute scrap, and Citys impeccable start was bound to level out at some point. Mourinho, on the other hand, seems to be struggling with himself. His side went behind in 30 seconds at Chelsea without touching the ball, which is already the most unMourinho-like statement imaginable before factoring in the significance of the venue or the behaviour of the home fans and manager. Watching from the sidelines as three more goals went in, Mourinho looked as he has looked for most of the season in Manchester. Glum, passive, powerless. A speech bubble over his head might contain the words: Why is this happening to me?
It seems a reasonable question. Mourinho badly wanted the United job, it was one of the few available commensurate with his background and ability, and crucially he knew exactly what state the club was in because he had been in England for the last couple of years. To give one obvious example, he knew all about the Wayne Rooney situation that now appears to have blown up in his face. His alleged interest in the striker while at Chelsea was one reason why Rooney ended up with a new five-year contract at United, always likely to point towards a messy endgame unless the player could maintain the high standards of his earlier years.
Moyes awarded that contract, Mourinho has ended up with the mess. It hardly matters whether one viewed the initial promise to keep faith with Rooney as a striker and only a striker as either an optimistic ruse to bring the best from him or a cynical ploy to allow him every chance to fail, the fact is Mourinho himself changed his mind a few weeks later and used him in midfield. And now Rooney has been to all intents and purposes out of the team, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has begun to discover that Uniteds supply line to designated strikers is perhaps not all it might be, the optimism surrounding what appeared a solid summers transfer business has all but disappeared.
Ibrahimovic, just turned 35, makes a great totem at the front of the attack but has a similar range of movement. While his finishing ability remains undiminished he has never been the quickest and requires a fairly precise service in order to flourish. A lot like Rooney, in other words. So were Mourinho to take Steve Bruces advice a purely theoretical notion, you understand and give Rooney back his job as main man up front, it would have to be at the Swedes expense. Two relatively immobile strikers waiting for the ball to be delivered to feet or forehead is just not going to work, although that appeared to be Mourinhos original plan.
It may have had a chance of working had the support cast done their job, yet none of Mourinhos summer signings has proved as decisive as the manner in which the manager went out to buy them. If a contest were arranged to try to spot the most expensive player in the world Paul Pogba would not be mentioned in the first few dozen guesses on current form hence Mourinhos eagerness to flag up a decent performance against a side lying halfway down the Turkish league and
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is still waiting to properly commence his United career after a series of bewildering excuses. At least Eric Bailly looked the part before picking up an injury at Chelsea, but as an attacking force, which is surely what Mourinho is trying to shape them into, United have stalled.
It could even be the case Mourinho has stalled. He took over the joint-best defence in the division based on goals conceded last season, allowed himself a smile of satisfaction after
shutting out Liverpool at Anfield, then lost the plot spectacularly at Chelsea. The old Mourinho was about certainty, not inconsistency. His teams were drilled to within an inch of their lives, not allowed to let their attention wander to the extent of conceding within a minute. United must have thought they had signed the old Mourinho, the one many worried would be too defensive and dour for the clubs traditions.
It appears they have ended up with some unhappy hybrid. Not so good at organising defences, playing the transfer market or transforming teams into slick machines, but still dour. Guardiola, as it happens, is getting dourer by the day too, though a win would probably bring back the smile and easy charm. One wonders if the same can be said of the United manager. Mourinho appears to have lost some of his love for football, the enjoyment is no longer discernible. United fans will know exactly how he feels.