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Will the real Man Utd please Stand Up!

It was a spell of eight days that threatened to cast a rather gloomy cloud over Jose Mourinho’ short tenure in charge of Manchester United:

Saturday September 10; a 1-2 defeat to their arch rivals across the city.

Thursday September 15; another defeat, this time 0-1 to Feyenoord in the Europa League.

Sunday September 18; the week from hell completed by a 1-3 reverse at the hands of Watford.

It’s easy to point fingers in these situations, but who was to blame? Was this a hangover from the Louis van Gaal years? Is the ‘Special One’ in decline as a tactical force? Have his new signings failed to bed in? It can’t all be Wayne Rooney’s fault, can it?

Daggers were drawn: social media ‘pundits’ were calling for the heads of Mourinho, Rooney, Marouane Fellaini and anybody else for that matter, while the English sports media – not known for their patience and progressive thinking, admittedly – had seemingly taken great pleasure in singing the death knell of Manchester United FC.

Remember, the much-maligned Louis van Gaal - ridiculed in his spell as Manchester United manager for a negative playing style and several turgid results - had accumulated 13 points after six Premier League matches; Mourinho’s vintage currently have 12.

But then something extraordinary happened. Aided and abetted by Leicester City’s unacceptable-even-for-schoolboy-level defending, United had thumped the reigning champions 4-1 at Old Trafford, and all was right in the world once again.

Or was it?

The weight of expectancy from pundits and fans alike is in the ascendancy, rather than the motion of despair, and so the pressure is on Mourinho once again to deliver. But are his side capable of coming up with the goods? Now is the time for the real Manchester United to stand up and be counted.

Goal Setting

Much of the scathing criticism has been reserved for the midfield trio of Fellaini-Rooney-Paul Pogba, on whom the responsibility falls to create opportunities for the likes of Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The problem is that Fellaini is more of a midfield battering ram than a creative force, and his lack of mobility is often exposed by sprightly ‘number 10s’ whom he is supposed to be marshalling. If the Belgian is offering little going forward apart from height and the occasional jutting elbow, then his place in the team appears to be hopelessly fragile.

And then there’s £90 million Paul Pogba, who has so far ‘failed to live up to his transfer fee™.’ But how could he not, unless he has been gifted with superpowers while he sleeps? Coming from the pedestrian pace of Serie A it was always going to be hard for the 23-year-old to readjust to the tempo and tempestuousness of English football; there were signs against Leicester that he is getting there, however.

Poor Wayne Rooney….it’s just not happening for him at the moment. Here’s a 30-year-old that has spent the last 20+ years of his life playing as a striker. For him to suddenly become a midfield metronome in the fashion of an Andres Iniesta or Kevin de Bruyne is wholly unrealistic.

Even with that mitigation, is a campaign to date that has yielded one goal and two assists in five starts, plus an average of 2.00 key passes per game, 1.80 shots and a pass success rate of 86% really as terrible as it sounds? It is if your mind has been made up by the media, who have long held Rooney as a bizarre scapegoat for the failings of English football. For the smart minded, a fine talent experiencing a natural decline in the autumn of his career is currently delivering an expected level of performance.

Really, this isn’t a question of individuals for United. Their failings, if that is what they are, are collective….and there the buck must stop with the manager.

The Advantaged One

Since having the world at his feet after guiding Porto to a historic Champions League title, Mourinho has managed to land on those very same feet with a string of high profile jobs, but when you dig a bit deeper we have to really question whether he really warrants such high esteem with a performance graph that is clearly in great decline.

In his first spell at Chelsea he turned the Blues into English football’s major force – albeit with a cumulative spend of £225 million, and then he worked a minor miracle in delivering a Champions League trophy and two Serie A crowns to Inter Milan.

But something changed when the Special One joined Real Madrid. Gone were the fun interviews, the sly wit and the easy going charm. In their place came the hangdog expressions, the bad luck stories and the ‘whole world’s against me’ attitude. Two trophies in three years, one of which was the Copa Del Rey, simply isn’t a good enough return for the Galacticos.

He brought the good times back to Chelsea, briefly, before being fired after a disastrous six months at the start of the 2015/16 campaign. And so here we are: up to date, and querying a manager who appears to have peaked already.

If the wider football media wants to point their collective figure at somebody – and they love to do that, then it’s not Rooney, Pogba or Fellaini where they need to be pointing, but at the man who has once again spent the equivalent of third world debt on new players and thus far failed to oversee any real improvement from the Van Gaal era.

Early days of course, but the Special One needs to recapture the magic of his glory days….or else.