The passing of another weekend has left Manchester United supporters as confused as ever about what is going on at their club.
Only picking up a point at home against Wolves wasn’t as disappointing as the manner in which it was earned, with United showing little fight or determination to get the game won after Joao Moutinho’s second half equaliser.
All teams can have a bad day at the office, where the opposition goalkeeper plays out of his skin and the deserved points aren’t handed out, but that’s not what happened on Saturday. United looked totally lifeless and devoid of any urgency to score.
“Wolves, by the way they faced the game, I think they deserve it,” Mourinho said after the draw. “They play like I like to play which is like the World Cup final. That is the attitude I like my teams to have in every match. We didn’t have that. They did. That attitude made a difference.”
It’s one thing to be unlucky on the day but to have such a poor approach to the game is unforgivable and the blame has to be shared.
Mourinho’s job is to motivate the players and on the back of a good 3-0 away win in the Champions League, it looked as though he had finally turned a corner. United had won three games on the bounce and had started to develop some rhythm. But the lack of effort the players showed against Wolves is a huge concern.
The players themselves need to take accountability for that too, as a rousing team talk shouldn’t be needed to get them in the right frame of mind to claim three points against a mid-table team at home.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this from United this season though, with the 3-2 defeat away against Brighton producing a similar display. Having conceded three goals in the first half, you imagined the players would have come out fighting in the second half, but it was just more of the same.
They casually passed the ball around as if they were the team with the lead.
“They had more hunger than us,” Paul Pogba said after that game. “I put myself first, that my attitude wasn’t right enough.”
What is going on when the captain, a player who graduated from the club’s academy and demanded a world-record breaking fee, can concede that his attitude wasn’t right?
When United face Derby on Tuesday night in the League Cup it’s hard to predict which team is going to show up. The one that easily saw off the likes of Leicester, Burnley and Young Boys, or the pathetic bunch that showed up against Brighton and Wolves?
Mourinho’s former player at Chelsea, Frank Lampard, will be in the opposition dug out and will be desperate to get the bragging rights over his former gaffer. There’s no doubt that his Derby team will be as motivated as any that will come to Old Trafford this season.
But will Mourinho have a plan to counteract their determination? Will he be able to motivate his side to deal with Derby’s eagerness for a giant killing?
As the gap between United and their hated rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, seems to grow every weekend, the manager has done little to reassure the supporters he has what it takes to mount a title challenge this season. We’re not even out of September yet and United already find themselves eight points worse off than Jurgen Klopp’s team.
It is for this reason that Mourinho needs to take the cup competitions as seriously as he ever has. The League Cup was the manager’s first piece of silverware at United and while winning it doesn’t make up for failing to claim the league title, especially now in to his third season, it at least gives the fans some reason to cheer. This alone shows how steep the decline has been since Sir Alex Ferguson, who returned to Old Trafford for the first time since brain haemorrhage, retired.
But if the players can’t get themselves in the mood for Premier League teams, can they be relied upon to show up against Championship opposition?
Mourinho rarely plays significantly weaker teams in cup competitions anyway, so you imagine Tuesday night will be no different. There will be some rotation, with players like Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial returning to the starting line-up, but the manager will pick a strong starting XI.
And as the most prized trophy looks to have already slipped away from him, Mourinho will have to hope his squad decide they want to do themselves and the manager proud against Derby. If not, the building talk of a crisis will only continue to gain momentum, and rightly so.