MANCHESTER – A fourth successive winless game and another dire performance, Manchester United’s 0-0 Champions League draw with Valencia on Tuesday extended the club’s current crisis and prompted manager Jose Mourinho to question his role in their struggles.
With media reports intensifying in the past few days that former Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane was being lined up for Mourinho’s job, the Portuguese cut a deflated figure at the post-match news conference after saying on Monday he felt no pressure.
Admitting he too was at fault for United’s poor start to the season, Mourinho took some responsibility for backfiring tactics and team selection which he had previously defended adamantly.
“I think there are things that are difficult for me to say. I think you have enough reasons to criticise me,” he said.
“We had probably a couple of the biggest chances to win it but I have accepted the result as a fair result. I said in pre-season last season was phenomenal to finish second (in the Premier League). And I don’t say more than that.”
United’s second-place finish last term flattered their cagey performances, but the formula — heavily reliant on goalkeeper David De Gea’s consistent heroics — was less likely to yield success this season.
With United seemingly lacking depth and quality in all departments to launch a title challenge, it is questionable whether axing Mourinho would bring an instant change of fortunes.
Although Mourinho may be on borrowed time, with United nine points off the pace in the Premier League after they were also dumped out of the League Cup by second-tier Derby County, the current squad look unlikely to start firing on all cylinders under another manager.
A shaky defence looks in constant need of protection by a midfield lacking creativity. This has the effect of forcing the forwards to drop deep in a predictable pattern, no matter how often the team’s formation is reshuffled.
“We don’t have the technical quality to build from the back,” said Mourinho, conceding United’s most glaring weakness, which West Ham exploited to devastating effect in Saturday’s 3-1 Premier League win.
“Our attacking players aren’t in their best moments of confidence and individual level,” he added.
Mourinho then showed how far expectations have been lowered at the club, which dominated English football for two decades under former manager Alex Ferguson.
“We have Newcastle before the league stops (for the international break) then we have Chelsea and Juventus in three days. It will be good for the team if we can beat Newcastle,” he said.
Judging by United’s results and performances, victory against the Premier League’s 18th-placed team, who have racked up two points from seven games and scored only four goals in the process, can not be taken for granted.