If any United fans thought that getting Jose Mourinho would magically herald a return to the Fergie glory years, the last couple of games will have brought them down to earthy reality with a massive bump. The derby defeat on Saturday could be shrugged off as an early season loss against a superior team with perhaps the best coach in the universe at the helm. But there could no such excuse against Feynood in the Europa League tonight. A 1-0 away defeat compounded by a lacklustre performance where United barely created any chances. It was just like watching Louis Van Gaal’s team in the Europa League last season. Bereft of ideas, bereft of drive, bereft of clear cut chances.
Some might point to the eight changes made to the team line up in mitigation. A cynic may suggest that Mourinho isn’t too keen to progress in the second tier of European competition and considers it an unnecessary distraction and hassle having to travel to far flung, terrorist threatened and war torn locations. They might be right. It may work in United’s favour to exit the Europa League at the group stage. It would leave them free to concentrate on what really matters – challenging for top spot in the Premier League. Unfortunately, United’s problems look depressingly familiar – struggling to score goals at one end whilst conceding sloppy ones at the other end. Right now, a more realistic target would appear to be simply finishing in the top four and getting into the Champions League.
The one Mourinho buy who did start was Paul Pogba, a player who is currently making Fergie look like a prescient genius in flogging him. Pogba’s mediocre start on his return to his alma mater gives the impression that United’s biggest mistake was not in selling him but buying him back. It is to be hoped Pogba will improve and show his worth as the season wears on, but for £89 million, United have a right to expect a player to hit the deck running. Mourinho needs a midfield general in the mould of a Robson or Keane to take command of his team and drive them forward. Right now the only place Pogba is driving is a cul-de-sac.
Of course, change takes time. But what manager has time these days? No manager, not even a United one will have the seven years that Fergie needed to win his first League title. With Pep Guardiola’s City already looking like the classy, self-assured team to beat and Antonio Conte’s shrewd buys making Chelsea competitive again, Mourinho faces a tall task in returning United to the top of the perch they imperiously sat on for so long under Fergie.