After the debacle of their Champions League exit on Tuesday, Jose Mourinho was asked what needed to happen for Manchester United to rejoin Europe’s elite. ‘Everything has to change,’ he said.
A bleak pronouncement, perhaps, for a club that has made strides under Mourinho. But at the same time it is right to ask why they fell so horribly short against Sevilla and why they looked so terrible in doing it.
Here, Sportsmail looks at some of the issues affecting United…
Manchester United fell horribly short as they were knocked out of the Champions League
There is nothing new in saying Mourinho takes a negative approach to football. That is not to say a defensive, conservative mindset is wrong – it can be boring, hideously so, but his success and that of other managers over the years has shown it is far from wrong. The trophies don’t lie.
What is infuriating, though, is the lack of flexibility on his part. That he can spend in the region of £300m on players and produce such an uninspiring sum from talented parts. A squad of Pogba, Sanchez, Rashford, Martial, Lukaku, Mata must, surely, be capable of something a little less functional and a little more enchanting. That sits squarely on the manager and his instructions.
The defeat against Sevilla was awful, but the most damning statistic beyond the scoreline was United’s tally of four shots on goal in two legs against a side with a -6 goal difference in La Liga. Incredible. It is baffling how rarely United actually choose to fight on the front foot.
United mustered just four shots over two legs against a side with -6 goal difference in La Liga
The other peculiarity on Tuesday was is in personnel, namely the use of Marouane Fellaini. Hardly the cavalier choice, and it seems odd that Mourinho, with all his success, would pin a Champions League strategy on diagonal balls and flicks. If there was a broader strategy to using Fellaini over a more versatile passer of the ball, then it wasn’t immediately obvious.
Fellaini’s selection over Paul Pogba, not to mention Scott McTominay, was designed to protect against set-pieces. That doesn’t make an awful lot of sense in a home tie against a team that concedes quite freely – another question of outlook.
There is also something to be said over the use of Marcus Rashford. Frank de Boer was eviscerated by Mourinho for questioning how the attacker was deployed but the Dutchman was probably right. How strange it was to see Rashford shifted to the right having just destroyed Liverpool from the left. Unpredictability in a line-up can be good, but so can stability.
In the centre it was no less messy. At times, Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku, Fellaini and Alexis Sanchez all seemed to be trying to play the same role, with no sense of cohesion between them. For a man who revels in the details, how could a Mourinho team look so disjointed?
Maraouane Fellaini’s inclusion from the start did not seem to make much sense on Tuesday
It was startling how meek United looked in a home tie. Quite aside from anything else, they failed to deliver on the basic requirement of fighting. It might be harsh to level the blame entirely on Mourinho and his mood-sapping utterances in public. But it is fair to wonder how this once-heralded motivator could send out such a lacklustre bunch.
Paul Scholes said on Tuesday: ‘There was no desire, there was no energy.’
Ferdinand added: ‘The attitude just seemed off, lethargic.’
In a Champions League fixture, that is just unforgiveable.
Star names falling short
Something has to happen with Alexis Sanchez and soon. He is a tremendous player but United have only footage of him in other shirts to go on in that regard. After 10 games he has one goal and appears to be drifting.
Rio Ferdinand said: ‘Sanchez looks like a shadow of his former self. When he was at Arsenal, he was a player everyone looked to for inspiration. Here he looks like a stranger. When you go to a new team, you don’t lose your talent. Something isn’t going for him.
‘It wasn’t just Sánchez. The whole XI was shocking (against Sevilla).’
Scholes went even further. He said: ‘He gave the ball away so often and his manager has to see that in the ten games he has played, he has not been good. He needs to choose his best front three. At the moment, Sánchez is the one to leave out.’
Similar questions can be asked once more of Pogba. This was looking like a season where he delivered on his potential but he is drifting again. He looked disinterested in coming off the bench against Sevilla.
Alexis Sanchez appears to be drifting — something must happen with the Chilean, and soon
The City factor
Anything United do this season will be made to look worse by Manchester City. Style and relentless winning – it’s a shadow that would make anyone look bad.
Perhaps it is just a Mourinho thing but the whingeing and sniping and all-out attacks on folk like De Boer is distracting from what he has done well.
The fact of the matter is that his time at United has been successful. He won two trophies last season and this season there have been legitimate signs of progress.
Look at the Premier League, for instance. At this stage of the 2016-17 campaign, after 30 games they were fifth with five fewer wins, 12 fewer goals and eight fewer points. Currently, they sit second only to Manchester City’s runaway train, and four points clear of third. That should afford some perspective and balance when weighing up the issues.
But Mourinho’s football is so dour at times, and inexplicably so, that combined with his demeanour, it is not always possible to see the steps made forward. He can help that by being less abrasive in his manner. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
Mourinho could help lift the mood at United if he was a little less abrasive in his manner