Well, wasn’t that dreadful? The first half was bad enough, but the second, with its inevitable, soul draining march towards either a 0-0 or a 0-1, made it one of, if not the, worst halves of football witnessed in the Jose Mourinho era.
Passes went astray, shots were half-hearted, the urgency and cohesion was reminiscent of one of those Soccer Aid games that gets played on this pitch every summer.
Manchester United were not good enough to win this game and thus ended with the scoreline they deserved.
As bad as it was, and it was horrendous, it’s not quite time to start comparing it to how bad it got under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal at its worst. The game in isolation was, but that’s no reason to shelve the entire Mourinho reign in that category.
If anyone remembers the home games against Southampton under Van Gaal, and the home win over Sheffield United, they will remember games even worse than yesterday. Rich pickings!
That said, the numbers stand up to comparison. Last night’s 0-0 was the eleventh scoreless result of Jose Mourinho’s era, following four last season and six the season before.
There were four in Louis van Gaal’s first season and seven in his second. The problem that was six of those seven came in a two month spell from October 25th-December 28th.
Those six came in a run of twelve games which also included the infamous Champions League exit in Wolfsburg, and the three consecutive defeats to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke. This spell of games made Van Gaal’s reign untenable.
The key difference is the Manchester United that Jose Mourinho not only has the potential to play far better than they did last night, as those previous sides did, but there is also the semblance of a team that can be built upon, rather than one that needs to be ripped apart and started again.
United have improved, ever-so-slightly, from the moribund displays of Louis van Gaal, and the proof is in there, but it when it comes to arguing the shades of grey, there is little point.
Eat, sleep, repeat
…which brings us on to this point. What were Jose Mourinho’s faults last night? You could argue that his repeated mass changes in selection have a direct result in morale dropping, so that genuinely talented players lose their confidence to the basics. That much is a fair argument. It’s also a fair argument to look at another changed defence and say it undermines hopes of consistency.
Finally, and most certainly most damning for the manager, it says loud and clear that more than two years in to his job, the manager doesn’t know the best shape or eleven to choose from the squad he has.
How much responsibility do the players take in that? Well, an excuse is all they need to underperform. This squad of 17 or 18 presumably think they can all play under the next manager. Their reputations will not be damaged by this spell of limbo that exists and will remain until the next manager is hired.
So how long will that period last? Right now Manchester United find themselves repeating the schedule from post-Christmas 2015.
Then, Louis van Gaal was kept on until the end of the season. The Premier League title may still have been winnable, and Jose Mourinho was available. But the board hesitated for months. An FA Cup was won, and supporters will have fond memories of that — and, it was nice for Louis van Gaal to have something for his efforts — but the progress of the club was halted for those few months.
This time around United fans are growing apathetic. That attitude results in a defiant defence of the manager to get behind the team even if there is a widespread resignation, even among most of those who felt Mourinho might still have done the job if given the tools, that change is now necessary.
They know that if history is to be followed, the board may wait until Champions League qualification is unattainable to make the change. There may be a contract clause which makes dismissal much less expensive in that case.
It is clear that change needs to be made and the fingers of blame from this point forward should be pointed squarely at the people who refuse to make the decision.
Jose Mourinho may damage every relationship on the way out and that may well add to the justification for his inevitable dismissal. There is enough existing ill-will against the manager that this will all work in the benefit of the decision makers. It’s no longer a blame game, more a peculiar stand-off to see which party can absolve themselves of it. The board don’t need to do anything, and they won’t, as the manager’s barriers come up to try and protect himself, but their inactivity only proves their inadequacy.
Where did it go?
Not even a forensic examination of Jose Mourinho’s failings as Manchester United manager can justify how this absurdly blessed group of footballers suddenly become unable to do the basics.
Does it explain why Romelu Lukaku steps up to take a crucial free kick despite having a dreadful record in general and on the back of one of his worst showings for the club? One might say that at least it showed character to stand up and take it. But it also shows responsibility to know your limits.
Perhaps Jose Mourinho has given Anthony Martial enough rope over this last couple of weeks. His performances have been remarkably poor by any comparison.
Nemanja Matic, who shouldn’t be one of those who want Mourinho out, resembled Michael Carrick of last season.
And then you get to Paul Pogba, who has already admitted this season that his attitude hasn’t been right. Perhaps we’re undermining his leadership qualities; his casual approach was certainly adopted by his team-mates.
Jose Mourinho will once more be accused of blame deflection by referring to what happened last season as he did after the game but there is a salient point. There was actual progress under his management.
Of course, now, there seems to be huge regression.
Let’s be frank about this. Jose Mourinho’s frustrations about not having more money to spend does not make him an anti-Glazer/Woodward activist to be celebrated by fans.
However, the players’ dreadful performances do not make them defenders of the classic Manchester United way of playing.
These players were capable of effectively following the manager’s tactics last season. Are they suddenly incapable of playing in a pretty standard 4-3-3 formation? Is that a reasonable enough explanation for the inability of these players to fail to beat Wolves, Derby and Valencia at Old Trafford?
The longer the malaise continues, the more it becomes obvious just how much every party is to blame.