Manchester United visit Burnley on Sunday with manager Jose Mourinho under greater pressure than ever at Old Trafford.
Successive defeats by Brighton and Tottenham, whose 3-0 win at Old Trafford was the worst home result Mourinho has suffered in his entire career, and seven goals conceded in three league games this season would have left him exposed, even without the ‘respect’ rant that followed that loss to Spurs.
Mourinho insisted at Friday’s news conference that he remains “one of the greatest managers in the world” – but on the eve of their trip to Turf Moor, BBC Sport assesses just how bad things really are for the 55-year-old.
What is the situation at Old Trafford?
From the outside looking in, it appears chaotic and disconnected. But sources inside Old Trafford insist the reality is far calmer.
That may be true. But other sources describe the atmosphere in the dressing room as flat – only to be expected after consecutive defeats, particularly a three-goal home reverse to one of your major rivals.
More worrying are claims from those well-placed sources that no-one appears willing to take responsibility for the position the club finds itself in, that the players are confused by Mourinho’s erratic team selections and that some have no wish to play for the manager over the long term.
Is there a power struggle?
If there is, Jose Mourinho will lose it.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is responsible for the day-to-day running of Old Trafford and speaks to the club’s owners, the Glazer family, daily.
As the man who was largely responsible for steering the entire Glazer family ownership of Manchester United through in 2005, he has the complete trust of the low-profile Florida-based family. It is inconceivable they would choose Mourinho ahead of him.
Mourinho is aware of this. Undoubtedly, however, there is a difference of opinion in terms of the strategy of squad building.
Mourinho wants to compete now and feels that experienced, high-quality players are the way to do it. United either cannot, or will not, fund such a project, especially when there is no guarantee of success.
Senior figures at the club believe there has to be a degree of building, and that it has to include developing younger players.
Does Mourinho have the solutions?
Crudely, if the answer is playing Ander Herrera in central defence, as Mourinho did against Tottenham on Monday, then it can be argued the wrong questions are being asked.
In the aftermath of the 3-0 defeat, the Portuguese said he did not know what his best central defensive pairing was.
Given he is now in his third season and he was responsible for buying two of the five legitimate options in Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, this is damning.
There has been a suggestion Mourinho was playing games, underlining to Woodward why he was right to argue for further defensive reinforcements which, for a variety of reasons, did not arrive. If true, this would be a risky strategy in the extreme.
The other accusation levelled repeatedly against Mourinho is that he does not develop players, or trust younger ones.
When United desperately needed a goal on Monday, England forward Marcus Rashford remained on the bench while Marouane Fellaini did not, something viewed as a negative.
Yet that overlooks the significant improvement made under Mourinho by Jesse Lingard.
And how do you analyse Luke Shaw’s return to the England squad?
Shaw has been the focus of Mourinho’s sharp tongue on numerous occasions over the past two years. Yet now he is performing at a level he had not reached since his arrival from Southampton in 2014. Is this a response to his manager’s tough love? Or is it just a coincidence?
So… is this the end game for Jose?
Not many experienced United watchers can make a case for Mourinho still being in charge at the start of next season, let alone to 2021, when his contract, extended in January, expires.
However, some take the apocalyptic view that the situation has become so negative, so toxic, that Sunday’s trip to Burnley will be Mourinho’s last game in charge and that his extended applause in front of the Stretford End after Monday’s defeat effectively marked his Old Trafford farewell.
That is not an assessment being given credence by anyone at the club, with sources adamant the board remains confident that Mourinho can turn the situation around.
Neither the Glazer family nor Woodward reacted at the first sign of trouble when David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were in charge, so there is no evidence to suggest it will happen now.
However, a third consecutive Premier League loss, something that has not happened since December 2015, would shine the fiercest spotlight imaginable on Mourinho and Woodward heading into an international break, and leave United languishing uncomfortably near the relegation zone.
And where does Anthony Martial fit in all of this?
Mourinho was willing to let Anthony Martial leave if the right offer came in this summer.
The United boss believes Martial goes missing in big games and, in an ideal world, Mourinho would have brought in Chelsea’s Willian or Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan in his place.
However, Willian is 30 and Perisic is 29. The price tag for either this summer would have been upwards of £60m. In contrast, Martial is 22.
Tottenham were interested in taking him but, at best, United would have got back the £36m they paid for him in 2015 had a sale gone through. Woodward blocked it anyway and this week the revelation has come that United are negotiating with the Frenchman over a new five-year deal.
United sources argue they are merely protecting their financial interests by doing so.
They say Mourinho has been kept fully informed of the situation, point out nothing has been agreed yet and that even if it were, it would not mean Martial could not be sold.
However, as Martial effectively has two years left on his current contract and extending it would weaken his own bargaining position with prospective clubs, it looks like a statement of intent in terms of future planning which – once again – is at odds with Mourinho’s outlook.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/45368281