It didn’t take long for Jose Mourinho to break his word regarding Wayne Rooney, while Paul Pogba again struggled to assert himself as Manchester United were humbled at Watford.
United’s third defeat on the spin was reminiscent of the dark days of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal – a lop-sided bunch of individuals of which Mourinho threw a couple under the bus after last week’s home defeat by Man City. And things did not improve against the Hornets, who showed glimpses of quick passing and incisive movement which United could not replicate.
Mourinho was adamant in July that Wayne Rooney would be used as “9, a 10, or a 9-and-a-half, but not a 6 or even an 8”.
On Sunday in the 3-1 defeat at Watford he played on the right side of a midfield three alongside Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba and it failed miserably as United slumped to their third straight defeat in all competitions.
“You can tell me his passes are amazing – yes, they are amazing, but my passes are also amazing without pressure. There are many players with a great pass, but there aren’t as many players who can put the ball in the net. For me he will be a [number] 9, a 10, or a 9-and-a-half, but not a 6 or even an 8,” said a bullish Mourinho in July.
However in his search for a balanced midfield, Mourinho has already backtracked on his summer vitriol, which was undoubtedly aimed at asserting his authority at Old Trafford.
Back-to-back defeats against Man City and Feyenoord and today’s humbling at Watford have heaped the pressure on Mourinho, who was eased into Premier League life with victories over Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City. And in search of the answer at Vicarage Road he played the England skipper, who was booked late on for a ridiculous tackle on the touchline, in a three-man midfield in the first half before switching him into a No 10 role in the second half.
His efforts in the first 45 minutes were minimal and his impact on the game was non-existent as United failed to register a shot on target. Watford meanwhile threatened on numerous occasions before Etienne Capoue put them ahead, which prompted a Mourinho shake-up at half-time with Rooney playing in a much more advanced, central role.
Rooney in fairness had a better second half, but ultimately he could not have a big enough impact on the game and his booking late on encapsulated a woeful away day for Rooney and United, who ironically did improve after the interval, despite conceding twice.
Pogba still missing
The world-record signing Paul Pogba clattered the crossbar with a 25-yard shot in the first-half and you may have thought that would have lifted the France star’s performance, but he drifted out of the game and he has now failed to score or assist in his first five games for the club.
Still, Paddy Power’s attention-grabbing assessment was harsh, labelling him “S****”.
Pogba gives away a free kick.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) September 18, 2016
Mourinho publicly backed Pogba in midweek and urged him to forget his £89million transfer fee, which may or may not be weighing heavy around his neck.
“The world-record player is always a question, but I want Paul to forget that,” said Mourinho.
“He played in the Euro 2016 final, went on holiday, then had no pre-season. It is normal after the first game he has a little decrease.
“I am full of trust because I know he is a good guy with a lot of ambition, so the form will come naturally.”
But despite his thumping shot off the bar, there was little else to suggest that he warranted United breaking the bank for him in the summer. Unlike Rooney, Pogba cannot point to the fact that he’s been played out of position. He’s featured on the left-side of a midfield three for France for years and he impressed for Juventus there too, but so far he looks well short of where he should be.
His only bright spot on Sunday was his shot on 30 minutes which cannoned against the crossbar and the ‘where’s Pogba’ cartoon image, which was doing the rounds last weekend, looks more than applicable once again.
— RED Emptyseats (@MUFCemptyseats) September 10, 2016
After that it was a long list of misplaced passes, one of which the referee managed to intercept, lost tackles and clumsy challenges. And his afternoon was summed up in a couple of minutes in the second half when he fouled his former Juventus team-mate Roberto Pereyra by the corner flag before flailing his arms in the air in disgust when referee Michael Oliver awarded a free-kick.
— Owen Murphy (@OwenSeanMurphy) September 16, 2016
And moments later he was booked for petulantly pushing away Valon Behrami after winning a free-kick, before he slashed a shot way off target as his frustration came to a head.
Whether Mourinho’s belief that Pogba’s form will eventually shine through may well prove correct, but so far in his fledgling United career he’s been more Falaco than Eric Cantona and expect more images of ‘Finding Pogba’ – a comical take on Disney’s ‘Finding Nemo’ to do the social media rounds.