What a difference a week makes.
As Manchester United returned from the international break ahead of a highly-anticipated Manchester derby against cross-town rivals City, all you could read about was how Jose Mourinho had the real United back.
A Community Shield win and a three straight Premier League wins to open the campaign and suddenly Mourinho’s top-four contenders were title challengers and equals of Pep Guardiola’s City and all other comers.
One week and three losses later – 2-1 to City, 1-0 to Feyenoord in the Europa League and 3-1 away to Watford – and Mourinho’s United are a basket case on the brink of internal mutiny and all hope is loss.
The reality is, media coverage of United is always going to be sensationalised. There will never be a happy medium.
Personally, I do not find United’s form half as concerning as some of the reports coming from the dressing room. United have already shown under Mourinho that while the last week of football has not been particularly inspiring they are still capable of playing good football and winning comfortably. What they have not shown is an ability to come through a tough period of forms.
Frankly, the constant reports of dressing room disharmony stink and, if true, is a poor reflection on the mental fortitude of today’s players.
No one seemed unhappy with Mourinho when United were four wins from four in all competitions.
Now, at the first sign of trouble, players are unhappy with being criticised, unhappy with one another and unhappy with Mourinho.
What a crock of shit.
Part of me hopes that such reports are not true, but the evidence is clear.
Paul Pogba was visibly vocal during the loss against Feyenoord, Wayne Rooney was throwing shade at anyone who dared to give him a bad pass on Sunday – despite his own struggles to effectively distribute the ball moving forward – and Luke Shaw was visibly unhappy with Mourinho coming off – which has been further reported in the media after Mourinho “criticised” Shaw for his role in Watford’s second goal.
Let us review what was actually said.
“The first Man City goal and this second goal against Watford — you can find an incredible similarity, which is [Aleksandar] Kolarov has the ball in a difficult situation in the corner and my players, instead of going up to press they decide to give space,” Mourinho said.
“Here for the second goal, Amrabat receives the ball and our left-back is 25 metres from him instead of five metres.
“This is a tactical but also a mental attitude. It’s something that doesn’t become perfect in a couple of weeks.”
So really, Mourinho was not talking specifically about Shaw, but rather the team’s failure to press opponents effectively across the whole field.
While Mourinho has attributed some of the blame for one of the three (!) goals United conceded against Watford to Shaw (deservedly so, he did not close his opponent down), he has also clearly said that he does not expect all his players to be playing exactly how he wants them so early in the piece.
Mourinho never said he would drop Shaw. In fact, he has said the complete opposite. Shaw will be given a chance – along with the rest of the team – to adapt their game to suit Mourinho’s plans.
Ultimately, it is Mourinho’s job to ensure that everyone in the squad is happy and committed to playing to the best of their ability, but if this is the sort of reaction he is going to get to poor form and general criticism, then I am not sure who would be able to achieve that goal.
Does Mourinho have to make his criticism public? Probably not, but he has hardly hung anyone out to dry…yet. To be honest, if he did, I am not even sure there would be too many complaints from some fans.
The good thing is that even after a tough week, the Premier League season is only five games old and there is still so much to play for.
I just hope these players shrug off the frustrations of the last week and get back to the sort of football they played before the international break.
If they do not, then they might just make up Mourinho’s mind about their future at the club for him.