From Pogba to the press: How Mourinho can fix Manchester United quickly

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The pressure is on for the three-time Premier League winner but time is of the essence and he must get United back on track quickly or risk his job

These are testing times for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. United have lost two of their opening three fixtures in the league for the first time since 1992. The 0-3 loss to Spurs on Monday, meanwhile, was Mourinho's heaviest-ever home defeat.

It looks as though things are unravelling at Old Trafford, right in time for those who predicted a third-season meltdown for the Portuguese.

Whatever happens between now and next summer there is still a job to do and still objectives to reach. United have got to stay on track in the Premier League and navigate through the Champions League group stages.

Here are five ways Mourinho can alleviate the stress around United over the next few weeks...

1. Coax more from Pogba

The key question eating away at Manchester United is the form of Paul Pogba. He is clearly underperforming. His two penalties this season cannot mask the fact that he’s been way off the pace since returning from the World Cup.

No player has lost possession more than Pogba this season, who has given it away a scarcely-believable 70 times in three league matches. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, it is not good for the player, the manager or for the club who paid £89 million for his services.

There have been disagreements between Pogba and France manager Didier Deschamps in the past, but they were able to get on the same page and win the World Cup together in the summer.

That has got to happen at Old Trafford, whether through Mourinho accommodating Pogba in his preferred midfield role or Pogba adapting better to Mourinho's demands 

2. Find more goals

Alexis Sanchez Manchester United

Much has been made of the defensive frailties at United, with seven goals conceded in their three opening games. But that is to ignore the fact that only four have been scored and half of those were Pogba's penalties.

Two goals from open play in 270 minutes of football is a shocking return for a team boasting an attack containing Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Mata and more.

It’s not like Pep Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City – when he was tearing what was left of his hair out over his team’s failure to convert the chances they created – it’s simply that in the creative department United haven’t been up to scratch.

Players like Mata are ill-suited to the counter-attacking game. They need constant involvement, in the anticipation of finding that one key pass. Marcus Rashford is stalling and not as productive as he should be – for club or for country.

The alienation of Anthony Martial has been a misstep from the manager. There is a player of world-class potential in there somewhere and Mourinho needs to unlock it.

While Alexis has attracted plenty of negative attention since moving from Arsenal, he has actually been a decent counter-attacker for Mourinho.

Since joining in January he has completed 44 dribbles; only Wilfried Zaha and Eden Hazard among the Premier League ranks have managed more in that time.

The Chilean has also created an impressive 30 chances and made three assists. The left side of the United attack is a decent avenue for Mourinho and he should exploit it more.

It is clear that Mourinho is going to continue to rely on Lukaku as his prime centre-forward and so the Belgian has got to ensure he is taking the decent chances coming his way, not wasting open goals, as he did against Spurs on Monday night.  

3. Forget the press... and the past

Jose Mourinho Man Utd 2018-19

Once upon a time Mourinho was adept at deflecting blame away from his players through the press, which allowed them to get on with the job. Whether that was railing against referees, UEFA, Unicef or opposition players and managers, Mourinho usually succeeded in getting the focus off his men. 

Through the past few seasons, and certainly since his dog days at Chelsea, he has lost the knack. He has consistently criticised his own players individually through the press.

Luke Shaw, Martial and Rashford have all been on the receiving end of his barbs during his time at United, while even Eden Hazard was singled out at Stamford Bridge by his former manager. 

It is hard to say what the upshot is of being so publicly vocal about the shortcomings of his players but on Monday he was effusive in his praise. Shaw, in particular, was talked up while, the team's bravery in playing on the front foot was also noted. 

On the whole, though, Mourinho's performance in the post-match press conference was bizarre.

He was weirdly defensive of his own record – boldly stating his three Premier League titles numbered one more than the total achieved by the other 19 managers put together.

But that only served to hark back to a time when Mourinho was the new kid on the block. Pointing out achievements from 13 years ago is not a good look for a man hoping to convince people he’s got a future.

It is clear that Mourinho takes notice of what is written and said about him and his team. He has made attacks on Gary Neville and Paul Scholes among others and sardonically dismissed journalists writing about his team as “Einsteins”.

By turning up far too early for his pre-game press conference and giving lame responses he also made a rod for his own back. 

It would be best for him to shut out the criticism and get on with the job.

4. Pick a partnership at the back

Lucas Moura Phil Jones Tottenham Manchester United 2018-19

Since Mourinho was installed at Old Trafford, Manchester United have made more changes to their starting XI than any other team, with 235.

While managers these days very often pick a system based on the opposition, players need continuity and certainty. It doesn’t help when players like Martial and Eric Bailly are starting one week and nowhere to be seen the next.

Mourinho needs to establish a core of seven or eight 'undroppables' and ensure that they are comfortable in what they are doing. That's how Guardiola won the league last season.

Beyond that, he must make sure that he has a consistent central defensive partnership to rely upon. He has made alterations in that area so often that it would be a surprise if Jose himself knew what his best pair was.

It is no secret that Mourinho wanted a senior centre-back in the summer but was denied one by Ed Woodward. So, now he’s got to establish what’s best for the team going forward based on the personnel he’s got available.

The chopping and changing is not going to be helping anyone. The four senior centre-backs must realise they are only ever one mistake away from being dropped again. 

5. Stick with the plan

Romelu Lukaku Man Utd 2018-19

Mourinho deserves some credit for taking the game to Tottenham on Monday night. United were bright in the opening half and probably should have been leading by half-time.

But Lukaku’s missed chance after he rounded Hugo Lloris has the potential to go down as a key moment – not only in the context of the game – but in the entire Mourinho reign.

If that chance had been scored, then the result would probably have been secured. Mourinho’s high-tempo game on the night necessitated the first goal. Without it, the plan unravelled.

Going into these kinds of games against the rest of the top six, Mourinho would ordinarily allow the opponent most of the ball and try to hit on the counter. Once Spurs got the opening goal – albeit against the run of play – United were in trouble.

By changing up the plan, it was as if he wanted to send a message. He played with Ander Herrera in the back-line and demanded his team get on the ball. After two years of reactive football and playing on the break in the big games, it was strange to see a United team attempting to seize the initiative.

It would be far safer for Mourinho to stick to his guns. Counter-attacking football might win no favour among the fans, but it is effective.