Manchester United have lost three games in a row and already trail rivals City by six points in the title race. The big-money signings who arrived at Old Trafford in the summer are struggling to gel as a team. So what now for the red side of Manchester? The Daily Mail’s experts pass verdict . . .
1. How does Mourinho rediscover his mojo?
REDKNAPP: The biggest problem Mourinho has got at the moment is finding the right balance in his starting XI. There are star players, big egos and young talents in that United dressing room, and he will be having sleepless nights trying to figure out the right recipe. There has always been an aura around Mourinho and he’s not shy to tell us how good he is, but now he really has to earn his money and get United out of this rut.
KEOWN: Mourinho has got to take a long look at himself and stop blaming everyone else. He can forge special relationships with players and give them great confidence, but it can also go in the other direction and lead to big falling outs. He blames his players and looks to separate himself from the problem when he needs to help them be the best they possibly can. But this situation isn’t about Mourinho, it’s about Manchester United. He has to put his ego to one side because he is part of the problem — and he needs to be part of the solution, too.
SUTTON: They are too predictable. He needs to adapt his style to suit Paul Pogba and drop Wayne Rooney as he is clearly struggling to find a system and a way of playing that suits United at the moment. It is early days and Mourinho needs to be given time at United to build his team but with the short-termism in football it’s important that he finds a quick fix. He will get it right but at the moment it is not going to plan.
2. Is he right to criticise players in public?
REDKNAPP: I’m not a big fan of that behaviour. Maybe he was trying to get a reaction from Luke Shaw, but I think this sort of thing should always be kept in-house. It’s only when things start going wrong that these comments start slipping out — it’s never Mourinho’s fault and he’s usually pretty quick to shift the blame on to someone else. I’m not sure he would do the same thing to someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though!
KEOWN: It was very unkind ofMourinho to call out Luke Shaw on Sunday — not least because he was by no means the only one at fault for Watford’s second goal. At 21, Shaw is an easy target for Mourinho and would have been humiliated at being substituted immediately after the goal. He has the potential to be one of the finest left backs this country has ever produced, but he’s playing with no confidence. His main strength is to tear forward at any opportunity, but it looks as though Mourinho has him playing in a straight- jacket.
SUTTON: It was an extremely surprising decision for Mourinho to single out Luke Shaw on Sunday. Calling out players individually in front of the whole world is not the wisest thing to do. Shaw will be thinking ‘Sod him!’ When I was at Blackburn Rovers Kenny Dalglish would criticise you, but it would be in private. That’s how it worked in my day. Coming out to criticise Shaw so early in his United career is a mistake on Mourinho’s part. His downfall at Chelsea was the falling out with Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. He may have had a personality clash there, then called them out and it backfired. Previously, we never saw this side of Mourinho. He had so much success in previous years that the ugly side he showed at Chelsea never reared its head.
3. Is Rooney holding back this United team?
REDKNAPP: I’ve said it so many times in these pages — I don’t understand playing Rooney as a midfielder. He may feel like he hasn’t got the pace to play up front anymore, but for me he plays as a striker or not at all. Mourinho has to put his players in their best positions, which isn’t happening at the moment as he’s got too many of the same type. It’s going to be fascinating to see if he can do this without upsetting one of the big boys.
KEOWN: It seems Rooney has lost some of his spark, change of pace and extra determination and he doesn’t play with the same edge as he used to. He is struggling to influence the game high up the pitch so, yes, I think playing him as a No 10 is holding back United. Paul Scholes dropped further back into the midfield towards the end of his career so it would seem this is the natural thing for Rooney to do. But Mourinho said at the start of his tenure that Rooney isn’t a No 6 or a No 8, so where does he play him?
SUTTON: If Pep Guardiola was the manager of Manchester United Wayne Rooney would be dropped immediately. Rooney is a problem for Jose Mourinho — and England manager Sam Allardyce. Putting it simply, there are better players in his position for both club and country now. Mourinho has got to be brave enough to leave Rooney out. United have lacked pace, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not the sort of striker who will move in behind the defence and Rooney is no longer a No 10 who does that. either. I would have the best player in Germany last year, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, playing instead of him for United and for England I would pick Dele Alli. Rooney is holding both teams back. It is as simple as that. The problems really all come down to Rooney. He is the major issue here. If you leave him out it give you far more options. Rooney has had his day.
4. How can United get the best out of Pogba?
REDKNAPP: He can play in a midfield two but it’s not his position. Playing him like this makes him a £20-30million player, but to get the full £89m-worth he must play further forward. There is no doubt United have signed a superb player and he will come good eventually, but Mourinho has got to adapt to him as much as Pogba has got to adapt to United. He’s got to change the system to get the best out of Pogba, otherwise he’ll get the hump, get his agent involved and then the ugly blame game begins.
KEOWN: Look at when Anthony Martial lost possession for Watford’s first goal — Pogba was miles up the pitch. A more conscientious midfielder would have sat deep until Martial had secured the ball, but Pogba lacked awareness and appreciation for the situation. Pogba is much more effective in an advanced position so it would make sense for him to play further forward with two sitting behind him. But he and Rooney can’t both play the No 10 role. It looks like Mourinho may have a big decision to make in the near future.
SUTTON: The holding role is not the one I thought Pogba would play when United spent £89m on him. But it is not the pressure of the world-record fee getting to him. Playing him in a holding two subdues him, so United would be better off playing him higher up the field — in a midfield with Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick. Pogba is an all-rounder so can adapt but Mourinho needs to take the shackles off him and let him play his natural game. He is playing to Mourinho’s style at the moment but it clearly does not really suit him.
5. Can Carrick restore order in midfield?
REDKNAPP: Michael Carrick might be the answer now, but not in the long term. He’s been one of the best passers in the world but he’s always been under-appreciated. There is a saying that he has his best games when he’s not playing — so he must be on fire now! There’s no doubt United need someone like him in midfield. I think Marouane Fellaini is a good player but he’s not good enough to play for United at defensive midfield. They need someone in there who can play one-touch football quicker and move the ball much better than they are at the moment.
KEOWN: Playing Carrick would be an improvement, but the likes of Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger will all feel they can contribute, too. Mourinho seems to have written off these players already. Schneiderlin was hot property last summer and Schweinsteiger impressed at the Euros in a Germany side who reached the semi-finals. How could someone of this calibre be left out in the cold before he’d even kicked a ball in pre-season? Any one of these midfielders would be an improvement on the current situation because, right now, Fellaini and Pogba are being played out of position.
SUTTON: Marouane Fellaini slows United down too much. Mourinho needs to find a way of getting Carrick in the team. Apart from an hour in the Community Shield match Carrick has not played yet, which I find odd. If they want to keep the ball better they need him in the team. Carrick has that vital Premier League experience. OK, he does not have the legs he had 10 years ago, but United are not a high-energy, pressing team, so that should not matter. What they lack is pace and someone who can pass the ball. Carrick can solve the latter problem for now.
6. What XI would you pick in the league next?
REDKNAPP: De Gea; Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw; Carrick, Pogba, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Ibrahimovic, Rooney.
KEOWN: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Schneiderlin; Rooney, Pogba; Martial, Ibrahimovic, Rashford.
SUTTON: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw; Carrick; Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Young, Rashford; Ibrahimovic.
7. Can United still win the Premier League league?
REDKNAPP: They can but they have got it all to do from this position. Last season I would have been more confident, but City have started so well this year. It seems like United thought they could just throw money at the situation without thinking about how their new players would fit into the team. Now Mourinho will be sitting in front of his tactics board and pulling his hair out trying to solve the problem.
KEOWN: Of course they can — look at the calibre of their squad and manager — but I don’t think they will. I expect them to improve as the season goes on, but there is a vast gulf in class between them and City and I don’t see how they can bridge it.
SUTTON: Absolutely not. The league is gone now — they have no chance of catching Manchester City, having lost twice in the league in a week. They are simply not in City’s league from what we have been shown so far.
*£514mMoney spent on transfers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013
*92%Of United fans want Rooney dropped** According to fanzine United We Stand