It was a case of one step forward and two steps back as Manchester United were held to their fourth consecutive draw at home in the Premier League by West Ham United, only days after a morale boosting 4-0 victory over Feyenoord in the Europa League.
It’s been a topsy-turvy week at Old Trafford for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. After a brilliant performance against Arsenal from which they could only get a draw, the Red Devils demolished Dutch Champions Feyenoord in a dominant 4-0 victory in the Europa League during midweek only for Sunday to present yet another reality check for the 20-time League winners.
It wasn’t an underwhelming performance against West Ham by any stretch of the imagination but many fans saw it as a recurring trend where United have failed to take the initiative at home, especially in the Premier League. A struggling Hammers’ outfit went ahead in under 90 seconds when Diafra Sakho headed in off Dimitri Payet’s free-kick before Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalized later on in the first half for the hosts.
Mourinho’s touchline antics aren’t doing United any good
The United boss was sent off for the second time this season for voicing dissent at Jonathan Moss’s decision to book Paul Pogba for diving. While replays suggested that the Frenchman did dive as pointed out by the referee, Mourinho took out his frustration and exchanged words with the fourth official before receiving his marching orders. In hindsight, the sending off may have been harsh but it doesn’t take away from the fact that such a reaction and behaviour is uncalled for.
With a string of unfavourable league results, the pressure may be getting to Mourinho but his touchline antics are doing little to fix the issues the Red Devils have on the pitch. After a promising start to the campaign where they picked up four wins on the bounce, United experienced a downward spike in their form and level of performances.
Granted injuries and the misfortune of being at the receiving end of poor refereeing calls may have been a part of his side’s undoing in recent months, but by constantly bickering about them week-in and week-out Mourinho is only giving his players a convenient excuse for their poor performance. The scene maybe completely different back in the dressing room but in the public eye, the Portuguese isn’t setting a good precedent with his behaviour on the touchline and in press-conferences.
There are fundamental issues that the boss needs to solve at the club and while he has shown in the past that he has a knack for building a title winning team, his disastrous 2015-16 campaign with Chelsea is evidence that he is capable of imploding as well. It’s why Mourinho needs to focus on the basics and United’s progress rather than constantly reverting to apparent external factors affecting his side’s growth.
This is United’s worst start to a Premier League season
Manchester United have recorded their worst start to a Premier League season since it’s inception in 26 years and haven’t won at home in the league since September. Given the kind of squad the Red Devils have at their disposal, one would expect them to be challenging for the title instead of sitting 11 points off the pace in 6th spot. The Portuguese has had a better reserve of quality and talent in his side than David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal did, hence the outcome thus far will not please the United hierarchy one bit.
That said, there is still every chance that the tables turn in their favour but they’ll need to establish a much higher level of consistency to achieve that. The Red Devils seem to show more intent in attack going forward than they did early on in the season and it’s only a matter of time before they begin to click regularly.
Mourinho’s team rotation
The merit in the Portuguese’s shuffle-ups has been far from obvious with many arguing against his choice of personnel for the Hammers’ visit. Fitness concerns notwithstanding, Wayne Rooney had been excellent against Feyenoord, as had Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and yet both started on the bench. Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford replaced them in the starting XI, and neither played well enough to justify their immediate first-choice status.
Rashford missed a clear one-on-one in the first half, and Lingard constantly lost possession, drifting in and out of relevance. The changes also looked to have altered the balance of a side that seemed to enjoy its football during their midweek European tie. The boss must try and retain the crux of the team going into games in the future so as to help the Red Devils attain a certain level of consistency.
Dimitri Payet is Champions League quality
The mercurial genius has been a shining light in what has been a shambolic start to the season for West Ham. His class, quality and ability have shown despite his team’s low morale and with each passing game is reiterating how he’s a player who deserves the Champions League. European football for 2017-18 most certainly looks out of reach for the Hammers who have their priorities set on avoiding relegation.
That said, Payet, whose contract at the club runs up to 2021, will begin to weigh his options should some of the big guns come calling during the January transfer window and given the way he has been performing, it’s only a matter of time. In 13 games this season, the Frenchman has scored 2 and assisted 6 goals for the Hammers, becoming an indispensable asset to Slaven Bilic. If on February 1st, West Ham manage to have Payet in their ranks it’ll feel as good as a new signing for the Londoners.
Marcus Rashford form cause for worry?
The Golden Boy of Manchester is arguably enduring his toughest patch of form since bursting onto the scene against Midtjylland in the Europa League last season. His last goal for United came back in September against Leicester City in the Premier League and hasn’t scored in the ten games he played a part in since then. It was the England international’s incredible conversion rate that often dug United out of some tricky fixtures last season.
With Zlatan taking his place up-top, Rashford has been resigned to a role on the wings for the Red Devils. And with performances like that against West Ham, the forward is standing the risk of being replaced by the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial, both of whom have impressed in their recent outings for United. The 19-year-old did get to feature in his designated role in centre-forward against Arsenal but yet again failed to deliver the goods when it mattered as his side were held to a frustrating draw.