Rebuilding Man Utd will take time but Jose Mourinho has to follow Antonio Conte’s example by finding some quick fixes, while Liverpool continue to tick along nicely…
No quick fix for Mourinho
United’s 4-0 defeat at Chelsea was Jose Mourinho’s heaviest ever Premier League defeat and the manner of his side’s surrender at Stamford Bridge cannot be written off as merely a blip. There are simply too many glaring and reoccurring deficiencies to attribute to just a bad day at the office.
Most unlike a Mourinho side, United failed to display even a hint of defensive stability and organisation, despite not wanting for numbers in their own third. The Red Devils made ‘incredible mistakes’, as Mourinho admitted, but errors were not limited just to individuals.
Perhaps that is understandable when Mourinho is yet to fathom out what to do with his midfield, let alone the identity of those best suited to play in it.
Ander Herrera was again employed at the base of the midfield but the Spaniard was overrun, with Paul Pogba seemingly playing his own game, while Marouane Fellaini spent most of his 45 minutes ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was forced to drop deeper and deeper until he started receiving the ball in United’s centre-back area towards the end of the first half. It was clearly an instruction from Mourinho but the objective was far less certain.
Fellaini is the one player to make you doubt your own judgement more than any other. It’s so difficult to identify what he offers United in a midfield role, but given David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho all seem to trust him ahead of the likes of Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin and even Bastian Schweinsteiger, there must be something in the Belgian that the rest of us are missing. Would he get in the midfield of any other top-four hopeful? Fellaini is apparently appreciated because he follows instructions, but so does an obedient dog.
Ahead of his dysfunctional midfield, Mourinho’s attack is faring little better. Ibrahimovic is causing problems but his eye for goal has been out of focus of late, while speedsters Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard spent most of their time again running very fast in the wrong direction for United.
For Mourinho, it is hard to distinguish how his return to Stamford Bridge could have gone more wrong. With so many faults to correct, it is clearly not a quick fix. But the manager has to find a way to mend and make do in time for the EFL Cup visit of City on Wednesday before two must-win league games against Burnley and Swansea.
Conte’s contrast with Jose
While Mourinho continues to dither with his shape and personnel, Conte has already shown his decisiveness in addressing the problems so evident in his side’s humbling defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal, since when the Blues have won three out of three, conceding none along the way.
The Italian appears to have struck gold when mining for a solution to Chelsea’s defensive frailties. In switching to a 3-4-3 formation, Conte has found a way to provide adequate cover around his creaky central defence while also relieving his potentially devastating front three of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa from restrictive defensive duties in their own half.
Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses’ qualities are optimised as wing-backs, while the irrepressible energy of N’Golo Kante allows Nemanja Matic to keep things simple in sitting in front – or often alongside – the defence.
Under Mourinho, Chelsea would have shut up shop with a 2-0 lead at home against traditional title rivals; under Conte, the Blues instead went for the jugular and were rewarded with a further two goals.
Whereas Conte was under the cosh barely a fortnight ago, with spurious rumours circulating around his immediate future at Chelsea, it is Mourinho now under the spotlight. The United boss needs to find answers to woes at both ends of the pitch in a similarly decisive fashion to Conte.
Reds finding the right mix
Jurgen Klopp called for a mixture of “anger and patience” against West Brom after Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United effectively nullified Liverpool last Monday, and the German got exactly what he wished for.
The anger, though, did not manifest itself through rash tackles or rushed decision-making, it came through the deadly combination of a suffocating high press and a pulsating tempo that was instilled straight after the first whistle blew.
The frustration from ‘Red Monday’ could have easily lingered on, but what we saw from Liverpool was a willingness and desire to not let their arch-rivals have any lasting effect on their ambitions for this season.
With misfit Daniel Sturridge dropped in favour of Adam Lallana, the right cogs were all back working in tandem inside the Liverpool machine again. It was the turn of Philippe Coutinho, though, to dazzle the Anfield crowd.
He provided two genuine world-class moments: the wonderful leave that helped unlock the West Brom defence for Liverpool’s first and the devastating dummy that bamboozled two Baggies’ defenders before his neat finish.
Coutinho has often been criticised for shooting too much but he appears to working on that side of his game. He is in the process of picking his moments more wisely and this game provided a perfect example of that.
He completed 28 of 34 passes in the attacking third, created three chances, completed three of four take-ons and had a pass completion rate of 87% to go alongside his lovely goal.
For all of Coutinho’s and Liverpool’s brilliance, it still got a little uncomfortable when Gareth McAuley bundled home with ten minutes to go for the visitors and the man to blame for that is the Reds’ new number one goalkeeper, Loris Karius.
His awkward positioning and hesitancy led to the corner which gave the Baggies an undeserved lifeline and question marks remain over how long Klopp can afford to be patient while his summer signing acclimatises to the Premier League.
Karius, though, has not yet cost Liverpool points and their impressive win at Anfield took the Reds joint-top of the Premier League table and, with their awesome foursome of Coutinho, Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in full flow, there is no reason they cannot sustain a title challenge.