Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat away to West Ham was a crushing blow and the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to the feelings of many fans towards manager Jose Mourinho. He still has support from some, while others had given up a long time ago, but there were also plenty who finally lost the faith after that dreadful performance and result.
From start to finish, United were just not good enough and seemed to have no clear idea of what they were trying to do, which has been the story of our season. Despite finishing second last season, you won’t find any Premier League 2018/19 betting sites offering encouraging odds for United even finishing in the top four, let alone winning the league.
Mourinho is deserving of criticism for the line-up he selected for the London Stadium. The manager decided this was the moment to give Scott McTominay his first league start of the season. Given that he has only played five minutes in the league before now, coming on for Alexis Sanchez to see out our 2-1 win over Watford a couple of weeks ago, it was a bold move. The fact that he started in defence, with all our central defenders fit, was utterly baffling and set the youngster up for failure. Clearly Mourinho wanted to send a message to his centre-backs, who have been varying degrees of awful this season, but did so at the cost of starting his best available team.
There was little to no creativity over the rest of the pitch either, with Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku the only forwards included. While the former showed some sparks of excitement, he largely failed to create any chances of note, and fluffed his first half header from a few yards out. Thankfully he was saved by the offside flag. Lukaku did nothing, other than hit the post, but was fed scraps all game.
“The third goal killed the game and mentally killed the team that had a reaction and had a little bit of reward for that reaction,” Mourinho said after the game. “Not the pride – it didn’t kill the pride. I could see some of the players going until the end. I could see brave McTominay and Smalling trying to go forward and bring the ball, to go to set-pieces. But the third goal, mentally, was a big blow for the team.”
The manager is being unusually generous to his players there. Speaking as a fan in the away end on Saturday afternoon, I struggled to see many players showing pride in the shirt. Paul Pogba received the brunt of the frustration, getting some angry abuse from the travelling fans when he was taken off early in to the second half, but he was by no means the only player who looked like he couldn’t care less. I suppose the problem with him is that he has been a disruptive force behind the scenes, claiming he’d get sacked for speaking the truth and talking up the transfer rumours during the international break, so is less easily forgiven when he puts in shifts as poor as the one we saw on Saturday.
While it seemed obvious to all watching that the players have downed tools, ready to help the club make the decision sack Mourinho as Chelsea players did a few years ago, the manager defended their attitude.
“I have no complaints with the players’ attitude,” Mourinho continued. “I can have complaints with some quality; I can have some complaints with some mental approach in certain duels, where you could see, for example, Snodgrass coming to the pitch with an incredible attitude that he wants to eat the ball and wants to eat everyone around him. You need a little bit of that – I don’t know if it’s the right word in English – humility. You have always to try, also because that’s my nature as a football professional. But there are certain qualities we don’t have.”
Many fans remember the home draw against Fulham as the turning point for David Moyes, when even the supporters who begrudgingly defended him decided enough was enough. United put in 81 crosses that evening, with Moyes failing to recognise his tactics were not working, and United drew 2-2 at home with later relegated Fulham. The 1-0 win over Sheffield United in the FA Cup was a big turning point for Louis van Gaal, when United had their first shot on target in the 70th minute and needed an 93rd minute penalty from Wayne Rooney to progress to the next round.
The 3-1 defeat against West Ham may later be remembered in the same way for Mourinho, unless he can miraculously turn things around. It’s almost impossible to see that happening now though.
While he must take responsibility for the general lack of ideas and defensive approach his team takes, as well as his inability to motivate the players, the squad also should be accountable. It’s unacceptable to play for United and care so little about winning, which is what their recent performances have seemed to indicate. Forget Mourinho, what about the fans? What about the club that pays their wages? How many of the players can genuinely claim to have given 100% every game this season? Luke Shaw? Marcus Rashford? As always, David de Gea. But it’s slim pickings.
The end is nigh, for Mourinho at least, but the club need to start answering serious questions about their plans going forward, because the future looks anything but bright right now.