Manchester United started off the Premier League season so well. Going unbeaten in their first eight league games put them in a healthy position near the top of the table.
Since then, cracks have started to appear. United are currently eight points behind rivals Manchester City at the top of the table.
After such a promising start, where did it start going wrong for Mourinho’s men?
Why have Manchester United fallen eight points behind City?
In the first few games of the season, Paul Pogba was finally starting to show why Manchester United had shelled out £89 million for him. He was dominating games from midfield, adding goals and assists as well.
Two goals and two assists in the first two games of the season was exactly the start the Frenchman needed. His calmness on the ball and command of the midfield was allowing his team mates to flourish.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a brilliant start too, contributing five assists in his first three games. The space and freedom he was afforded in the opening games was largely down to Pogba’s influence on the team. Pogba dictating the ball meant Mkhitaryan had the freedom to move into the spaces that are so difficult for opposing sides to pick up. The Armenian’s form has dropped off significantly since Pogba has been injured. He’s struggled with the extra responsibility that comes with being the link between midfield and attack.
The rest of the midfield have also struggled in Pogba’s absence. Ander Herrera (last year’s player of the season) has come into the side in while Pogba has been out. The Spaniard has failed to make the midfield tick like Pogba in recent weeks.
While Herrera is energetic and is a natural leader, he lacks the passing range and dynamism to really dictate play from midfield. This was evident in the recent 1-0 defeat to Chelsea where Cesc Fabregas controlled the midfield and showed he is Herrera’s better in every department.
If United want to get back on track, Pogba’s recovery from injury can’t come soon enough.
The Red Devils have been brilliant at Old Trafford this season. They have won all their games at home so far, scoring 15 goals and conceding none.
It’s the form away from Old Trafford that has been an issue for Jose Mourinho’s side. Aside from a 4-0 win against Swansea in September, United have struggled to replicate their home form on the road.
A 2-2 draw with Stoke was then followed by a fortunate win at Southampton. This was not the worst of it however.
The display at Anfield was just a repeat of the previous season. It was a dross 0-0 draw where they showed no attacking intent whatsoever. This left a lot of fans extremely displeased with the display.
United set up to soak up Liverpool pressure and counter attack at every opportunity, and while there is nothing wrong with counter attacking football, Mourinho does not have the capabilities to set up in this way.
Romelu Lukaku isn’t capable of playing with his back to goal. For United to counter attack effectively away from him the Belgian forward has to improve at bringing others into play. Too often the ball comes straight back and attacks break down when played into him.
This always leaves them on the back foot as they don’t have a reliable outlet when playing the ball forward away from Old Trafford. If Lukaku was able to improve in this area it would allow his team mates greater licence to break away from the defensive shape and join in with attacks on a more regular basis.
If Lukaku can’t improve on this and improve quickly he could find himself left out when Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns from a knee injury.
Poor Transfer Window
United spent £165 million in the summer transfer window. At the time the players purchased seemed like good buys. However, as the season has gone on, holes in the squad have started to appear.
The need for another centre back was apparent and United shelled out £30 million on Victor Lindelof from Benfica. Lindelof has struggled massively since joining and is now failing to even make the substitutes bench.
The Premier League has been a huge step up for the 22-year old and he has failed to cope. He has not been commanding in the air which was exposed when he was fault for a goal against Huddersfield. Also, his positional play is not what you expect from a full international.
Lindelof is still only 22 and can improve. However, he is not currently up to the level required and so United still have a hole in the centre back position.
Romelu Lukaku started off fantastically well but his weaknesses have been exposed over the last few weeks.
Heavy first touch, average with his back to goal and poor link up play have all contributed to a downturn in form for Lukaku.
He had a reputation as a flat track bully before he joined United and those claims have been held up by very poor performances against Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea. An argument can be made for Lukaku to still have improvement to do being only 24. Currently, he’s shown himself not to be at the level of top strikers like Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane, who is only 24 himself.
Holes in the Squad
While United have spent close to £300 million under Jose Mourinho gaps in the squad are starting to emerge.
The lack of a specialist left back is really starting to show up. Luke Shaw’s time at the club seems all but over. As well as this, the likes of Ashley Young, Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian have filled in, however none of them are good enough in the role to be considered there long term.
Paul Pogba’s absence has highlighted a serious lack of depth in midfield. Nobody can compare to the club record buy and when he’s out the side simply lack the dynamism they have when he’s in the side.
The wide areas have also been a concern. Mourinho stated in the summer he wanted a left sided attacking player but no player was brought in. The right wing is also unbalanced with no natural right sided attacker in the squad. Juan Mata has filled in very well but his obvious lack of pace severely hinders him when in a wide position.
With the outlay the club have spent since Mourinho’s appointment there shouldn’t be this many gaps in the squad at this point.