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Paul Pogba's form and a lack of goals and clean sheets: The problems facing Jose Mourinho and Manchester United

United have equalled their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. Here is a look at the issues behind their malaise

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has a lot to ponder after his side's third Premier League defeat of the season at West Ham United. EPA
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has a lot to ponder after his side's third Premier League defeat of the season at West Ham United. EPA

Jose Mourinho, yet again, is facing scrutiny over his reign at Manchester United.

Saturday's dismal 3-1 defeat at West Ham United equalled the club's worst start to a Premier League campaign.

Ten points from seven games matches the start to David Moyes's one season in charge at Old Trafford in 2014, and puts pressure on Mourinho's side to achieve the bare minimum they would expect from the campaign.

United are 10th in the table, but what is worrying is the gaps already opening between them and the sides they would be expecting to competing against.

They are already nine points behind Manchester City and Liverpool, and seven adrift of Chelsea.

But, they are also five points behind Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, both of who have had respective dips in their own starts to the campaign, putting early pressure on United's hopes of finishing in the top four.

You have to go back to 1989 for the last time United started a season with less points, seven in that case, to show for their efforts after seven games.

That was under Sir Alex Ferguson, and United would go on to win the FA Cup that season, and that is already looking like the only chance of a trophy this season under Mourinho.

They are already well adrift of City and Liverpool, and are out of the League Cup. The Uefa Champions League will be a very tall order to win, so the FA Cup does look like the only hope of silverware.

So, where is it going wrong that we are at the extent of being at the start of October with United's season already in trouble.


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Defensive woes

The 12 goals United have conceded is the most of anyone in the top 10 in the table, and to be put in context they have conceded four times as many goals as both City and Liverpool.

Mourinho made it clear in the summer that he was not happy with his defensive options and was frustrated his targets had not been brought in by chief executive Ed Woodward.

But, it is still Mourinho's responsibility to work with what he has, and clearly it is not working.

United have not played the same back four in successive league games yet this season. Some of that is down to injury, with Luke Shaw's concussion ruling him out of one game, and since the Burnley game Mourinho has settled on Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof as his central defensive pairing.

They were pulled apart by West Ham on Saturday and the defence could not handle the strength and power of Marko Arnautovic.

Mourinho may have been proven right that his defensive personnel is not up to scratch, but he is stuck with what he has until January at least.

One clean sheet in seven games is not good enough and tightening up at the rear will be one way of alleviating problems.

The Pogba issue

Mourinho's relationship with Pogba is a whirlwind. One minute it is back to being harmonious, the next it is a crisis again.

Things are clearly not right. Much can be read into the off-field clash after the League Cup loss to Derby County and the French midfielder's use of social media during the game from the stands in a match he was not playing in.

But what really stands out was him being substituted in the 70th minute of the West Ham game. United were two down and yet their record transfer signing was being hooked from proceedings.

Common wisdom is that your best players stay on the field, especially when you are losing. Pogba was not having a good game by his lofty standards, but he has often been key to United's best football this season.

Pogba was superb in the wins at Burnley and Watford, United's best league displays of the season, and he has the class to make something out of nothing, as he showed with his beautifully judged flicked pass to set up Fred for his goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month.

Pogba has to take some responsibility. As good as he has been at times, he has also been anonymous in the losses to first Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham.

It was surprising Mourinho substituted him on Saturday, but maybe he felt he had to do it to underline to Pogba that he cannot afford for his level to drop. Cruise control is not good enough and how he responds this week will be fascinating.

Lack of goals

United have scored 10 goals so far this season and only Wolves in the top 10 have scored fewer.

When United's forward line click they can be a force. Only an inspired display by Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster denied United four or five goals, rather than just the two they got in their 2-1 win at Vicarage Road.

But, then swap that for the 1-1 draw with Wolves where Pogba admitted post-match that the team needed to be bolder offensively.

So, what is the problem? The attack often looks disjointed and Romelu Lukaku looks isolated upfront at times.

The Belgian has netted four times, but he has had little support. Mourinho acknowledged Alexis Sanchez's poor form by dropping him for the West Ham game, but the fact the Chilean was not even in the squad on Saturday was surprising.

Neither Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial have completed 90 minutes in the league yet this season, and the infrequent use of the pair has not allowed either to develop any momentum or form.

So, not enough goals scored and conceding too many at the other is the simple reason for United's problems.

But, inconsistent team selection and not sticking with the same line-up is another reason.

It almost feels as if Mourinho does not know himself why his side is flattering to deceive, and believes that shaking up the personnel until he strikes a winning combination is the way to go.

United have the appearance of a disjointed unit and that is how it is playing out.

Mourinho, if he is given that long, has until January with this set of players, and he needs to work out his best 11, stick with it, and try to ride out the current storm.

Updated: September 30, 2018 12:33 PM



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