If the previous two defeats did not raise the warning flags for Manchester United fans, the 3-1 loss to Watford on Sunday certainly did.
Everything seemed to be coming up roses for Mourinho’s new side at first as they started the season with a series of encouraging results.
New signing Zlatan Ibrahamivic was scoring goals aplenty, youngsters like Marcus Rashford continued to look every bit the part, and record signing Paul Pogba appeared to slot in nicely in the squad. Even aging star Wayne Rooney appeared to be settling into his new role in the midfield.
Spirits seemed high – Pogba and Zlatan joked around in post-match interviews and Mourinho even cracked a smile every now and then.
But what a difference a few games can make. United have seemingly been exposed, and Mourinho’s hastily assembled – and very expensive – new squad is starting to look very much like a rush job held together by spit and duct tape.
Several players seemed to struggle in the defeat to Watford, but none more so than Rooney, as this highlight – or ‘lowlight’ – package clearly illustrates:
Imagine watching this video of Wayne Rooney and thinking it's an anomaly pic.twitter.com/q4SQaMnZaY
— James Dutton (@jrgdutton) September 18, 2016
The England star seemed ill at ease in his new role, struggling to read the game and make the correct decisions and all in all seemed devoid of ideas.
Rooney’s future and place in the team is just one of the many problems Mourinho will need to find a solution to as he tries to stop the rot of three straight defeats.
On the line is nothing less than the Portuguese boss’ sterling reputation. Long considered one of the best and most successful managers in the game, Mourinho’s recent failure at Chelsea has given him much less room to maneuver this time around with United.
‘The Special One’ needs to find a way to turn all that money spent into goals on the pitch, or he will quickly find himself in an untenable situation. In some ways, his departure at Chelsea already seems to be playing on his mind, as a series of quick fixes and ill-advised tactical changes have given the impression of a manager not entirely confident in his squad or his own decisions.
The first thing Mourinho absolutely needs to do is sort out the problems in the midfield. Pogba is being asked to do too much at present, and is not getting the support he needs from the likes of Rooney and Marouane Fellaini. All of which is preventing the French star from playing a more aggressive role and providing the kind of excitement and attacking impetus United fans were hoping he’d supply.
United’s midfield shortcomings against Watford also resulted in Anthony Martial and Rashford, who had been deployed on the flanks, being pushed back into their own half, leaving Zlatan frequently isolated up front.
At the moment, it seems to be case of several talented players not being able to gel together as a team. The pressure is on to start producing results, and Mourinho realises it.
“Some individuals probably feel the pressure and responsibility too much,” he said.
“We started the season very well. But was I thinking that my team was ready, perfect, unbeatable? Not at all.”
As bad a run as it’s been, Mourinho and United fans should not start panicking yet. The current approach is not paying dividends, but the hope remains that some necessary tactical changes could provide the key this team needs to start performing once again.
The lessons Mourinho is learning at present should prove invaluable as the season progresses, and even if he doesn’t seem quite clear on what the right formula is yet, recent results have – if nothing else – made it pretty clear what he shouldn’t be doing.
The talent is there, but only the right combination on the pitch will allow this team to shine.