United’s worst start to a season for nearly 30 years
- Red Devils' worst start to season since 1989-90
- League Cup exit to Derby and 3-1 loss at West Ham put pressure on Mourinho
- Clear divide between players and manager
At the start of last week it seemed time for Manchester United to regroup.
A home League Cup tie against lower league Derby County and an away Premier League fixture at struggling West Ham seemed like a great opportunity to inject some confidence back into the side and pick up some momentum to end the first full month of the new season.
However, the Red Devils slumped to defeat in both matches. The Rams beat United on penalties in an exhilarating game on Tuesday, and West Ham managed a comfortable 3-1 victory at the weekend that made United look less like a team that could challenge for any trophies than a team just making up the Premier League numbers.
So with all their international players, huge support and finance and a manager who has won every major trophy, why have Manchester United been so poor?
Last week, I wrote a preview of the League Cup match, as a Derby fan fully expecting a thrashing and yet still feeling the lure of the cup.
When Juan Mata scored in the third minute, I thought I had wasted my money . But after taking the lead, United just sat on their laurels, letting Derby press them and relying on some spectacular goalkeeping to reach half-time ahead.
The second half was pretty much all Derby and United had no answer to the superb equalising free-kick from Harry Wilson. Man United goalkeeper Romero was sent off for deliberately handling the ball outside the box and former Derby keeper Lee Grant took his place between the sticks. Both men made more last-ditch saves to keep the scores level, but with five minutes of normal time to go, Derby’s pressure paid off and they took the lead through Jack Marriott.
Finally, with the threat of losing looming, United picked up urgency and pressed a very tired Derby, grabbing an equaliser through Fellaini deep into injury time. There is no extra time in the League Cup this season, so the game went straight to penalties.
The lack of desire with which United played suggested they would have better nerve in the shootout but none of Derby’s players faltered and Grant could get near any of the Rams’ penalties.
As the shootout progressed, it was United’s players who looked increasingly nervous with Derby ‘keeper Carson getting closer each time and finally Phil Jones’s weak penalty was gobbled up by the former England number one.
While the squad contained a number of skilled internationals, it was not the first team and the full might of the squad should have made light work of a very mediocre West Ham side. The Premier League is more important and the game would be taken more seriously.
As with the Derby match, United lacked the desire to make anything out of it and the Hammers jumped on the chance to punish their apparent apathy.
What is going wrong for United? They don’t lack the quality in players. Pogba shone at the World Cup, picking up a winner’s medal with France and Lukaku was equally deadly in front of goal for the other Red Devils, Belgium. David De Gea is considered one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
Much has emerged from the United camp to suggest that there is a complete breakdown of trust between players and manager. Mourinho has been quite critical of his team and the fans, Pogba especially, and it’s becoming clear that they are beginning to resent him.
It is reminiscent of Brian Clough’s short tenure at Leeds United in 1974. The squad had just won the league and the manager had transformed at-the-time provincial club Derby into league winners and European cup semi-finalists in the space of a few years. And yet there was no mutual respect which led to a string of bad results and with Clough seeming to make no progress in regaining control of the dressing room, he had to go.
A similar thing could be happening at Old Trafford, and although Mourinho has won the Europa League and the FA Cup since his arrival, if he has alienated the players, he will have an almighty task to get them back on side and quickly, or his exit will be swift.