FEATURE: Has Mourinho lost his mojo?

EPL By: Imo-owo Mbede | 08/11/2017

Coach Jose Mourinho is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the game today having impressed in every league and club he has managed so far in his career. He therefore seemed well-suited for the assignment at Manchester United, more so because he is believed to have coveted it. In his first season, he fared better than his predecessors David Moyes and Luis Van Gaal by masterminding the club’s first Europa Cup victory. Expectations were therefore sky-high for the current season, as he is famed for winning the league in his second season at a club.

After a flying start, the team has diminished in output. It struggles to create and score goals, lost at home to Huddersfield, and has failed to show the stuff of title-contenders with gutless and cautious dispositions against clubs in the upper echelon of the English Premiership. Clearly, all does not seem well at Old Trafford, and there is need for urgent remedial measures if United still has any title-winning aspirations this season.

Fingers have been pointed at injuries to certain players as responsible for the lapse, but the problem is evidently beyond these injuries. Every team manager has a particular way he wants his team to play and Jose Mourinho is no different. United’s problem is more about the Mourinho’s seeming fixation on an inflexible stereotypical way of playing, irrespective of the players available, than the non-availability of some players. Lining up players out of position, negating skill in favour of brawn, refusal to drop underperforming players, as well as an overly cautious approach to certain games are some of Jose Mourinho’s undoing; and herein lies Manchester United’s current predicament.

Romelu Lukaku is clearly not a great striker and his extremely limited abilities have been grossly exposed – yet Mourinho starts him in every game; probably because he was acquired for 75Million Pounds (not because he was worth that much, but only because of the way the market has been in recent years). His miserable performances – not surprising and not entirely his fault – highlight the deeper problem of lack of creativity in the team as a whole.

Where Nemanja Matic has brought some stability to the spine of the team, there has been struggles going forward. Natural centre-forwards Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford continue to do a yeoman’s job, playing out of position on the flanks and have been somewhat found out. Martial is rendered ineffective by opponents crowding him out, while Rashford now takes corner-kicks when he should be in the mix trying to score goals. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has lost form and confidence from an inability to operate in tight spaces, when he would probably thrive in a wide role.

Herrera has been overburdened with defensive duties (understandably due to the absence of options here) when he would offer more offensively. Antonio Valencia is not offering as much as he used to anymore in attack (with an overall decline looking very imminent) while Ashely Young continues as a makeshift wingback.

Creativity has been lacking in Manchester United’s engine room since Paul Pogba picked up an injury. The team has consequently been one-dimensional and predictable because Coach Mourinho has failed to conjure up an alternative winning formula with the players available to him – seriously questioning his hitherto acclaimed tactical nous. After all, after starting out badly last season, Antonio Conte re-strategized and re-organized his team to win the title.

Perhaps Mourinho’s pursuance of Ivan Perisic was for a time like this, but for all his acclaimed experience and pedigree, he is expected to prove himself by utilizing the talents of Matic, Mkhitaryan, Herrera, Rashford and Martial to carve out a winning formation. The impending return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba will no doubt boost the team’s offensive capacity. This does not rule out the need for flexibility in the team’s game tactics to avoid over-reliance on any player.

The team still places second on the log (though steadily losing grounds on runaway leaders and local rivals Manchester City) thanks to its defence, and particularly goalkeeper David De Gea. However, concerns do exist here as well. Victor Lindelof was signed to shore up a defence struggling from lack of quality, but his failure to adjust in time to his new environment has stalled improvements at the back. The team has had to make do with complementing the gradually-improving Eric Bailly with average Chris Smalling and injury-prone Phil Jones (who, thankfully, has stayed relatively injury-free so far this season).

After a not-so-impressive first season in England following successful stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola was somewhat written off as incapable of hitting the same heights in England. However, with a point to prove, he has hit the ground running this season. When Mourinho was fired by Chelsea FC midway into the 2015-2016 season many concluded that he had gone full circle and lost his magic touch. The same sentiments have been echoed this season due to the recent unconvincing performances of his Manchester United side and so Mourinho, despite all his achievements, likewise has a point to prove this season.

As a man with a huge ego, even if he fails to win the Premier League title, he has his work cut out to at least give Guardiola and the “Noisy Neighbours” a good run for it this season. Failure to do this would confirm the widely held postulation that Mourinho may have indeed lost his mojo.