Following Manchester United’s two recent home draws to West Brom and Everton, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Robbie Mustoe about the struggles of United and manager Jose Mourinho.
Q: Manchester United’s Premier League unbeaten run now stands at 20 games, but 10 of these matches have been draws. Why have they drawn so many matches?
Robbie Mustoe: First of all, what Mourinho has proved to us in the past is a tremendous record of winning trophies. He’s done a vast majority of that by playing counterattacking football. Defensive first, very well-organized, strong in transition and counterattacking is what made his name and where he has been successful. At Real Madrid, he won the league in Spain ahead of Pep’s Barcelona for one season. Real Madrid are never going to be a counterattacking team so that was a little different, but other than that it’s been that style.
What we’ve seen this season, where he has tried to be more expansive and try and play the ‘Manchester United way,’ it hasn’t been great. It hasn’t been great to look at, it hasn’t flowed hardly ever and the results have shown that. At home where that’s been most evident, the style, they haven’t scored many goals. It’s kind of shocking what they’ve done at home. There’s a stat that was on Twitter from Sky: Jose Mourinho has the lowest win rate of any Manchester United manager since 1974, just winning 37.5% of the games at Old Trafford. It could be something thrown back at me saying this, but with the money that was spent on several top players to come into the football club, it’s been very disappointing. I think it’s a mixture of his tactical style and some of the young players that attacked better last year. It wasn’t great last year in terms of their attacking play under [Louis] van Gaal, but the likes of [Anthony] Martial and [Marcus] Rashford seemed to be much more prominent and confident and playing well.
Q: Do United have the players on the roster to fix the issues they are having?
RM: Yes, they do have the players on the roster. That’s a simple opinion from me that this is more to do with the manager than the squad of players. That’s always the biggest question and I think when you go through the squad they’re packed with international footballers. When a team is playing badly and when players are in bad bits of form and confidence is down it’s very easy to say ‘These players aren’t that good, he needs a lot of new players.’ At Manchester United when we saw the players that were brought in, it’s like ‘Wow, Jose’s done his homework and he knows what this football club needs.’ I honestly thought they, and Mourinho said it himself at the start of the season, ‘we are going for the title.’ I think he is very surprised at how poorly the club has done this season.
Looking at the roster right now, Martial, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, [Wayne] Rooney, Rashford, that’s good options up front. You’ve got Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba brought in, Juan Mata’s creative, [Michael] Carrick is experienced, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan is a top international player. You could put together a very strong side at Manchester United that you’d expect to win the title. Luke Shaw at left back, maybe [Matteo] Darmian playing in the side, I like Eric Bailly. You’ve got [Phil] Jones, [Chris] Smalling or [Marcos] Rojo, you can pick who to play with him. I think the players are there and it’s more of an underachievement from the manager that this club is not in the top four right now and won’t get there this season.
Q: If you were in Mourinho’s position, would you try to play the ‘Manchester United way’ or would you go back to his counterattacking ways?
RM: That’s a great question. It’s probably something that he thinks about all the time. I think he’s committed to playing an attacking brand of football. I think he realizes that Manchester United want that, they demand that. There was a little bit of concern from many people when he took the job wondering, is he really going to play the attacking way? To be fair we have seen that, we’ve seen them control games, try and play the ball and there’s been tempo about it which has been good.
I’m disappointed with the strategy, with the chemistry. When you see a side that attacks well, there’s very much a philosophy, there’s a creativity. I just don’t see that regularly enough at Manchester United. I think when you watch Chelsea it’s a good example. I know they have less games and no European commitments, but you see those wing backs getting forward, you see Pedro and [Eden] Hazard playing in between the lines coming inside, you see [Diego] Costa’s position up front, you see what Cesc [Fabregas] brings when he comes into the side. You can see the attacking pattern really clearly, but with Mourinho’s United at the moment you can’t. Now could he bring in better players, that’s inevitably how they’ll try to address this. He’ll say some of these players aren’t good enough, he’s already hinted that. We all know about what he said to Luke Shaw that he’s kind of not ready to be a United player. He’s questioned the front players other than big Zlatan about producing and finishing opportunities and of course there’s been tons of missed chances. I think he’ll try and address it with money and new players in the summer to try, in his way, to produce a team to win games.
[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Week 32 picks ]
Q: How do you think Man United will look differently next year?
RM: I think the center midfield will be very high on his priorities. I don’t think Jose really fancies Michael Carrick. He’s not mobile, he’s not aggressive in attack and he’s not brilliant defensively and Jose needs that from his central midfield players. We all know that Carrick can play, a great passer of the ball. Pogba is a box-to-box, so is [Marouane] Fellaini, so is Herrera. I think he’ll look for controlling, commanding, players in central midfield. He’ll look for a first-class attacking player as well. I mean Zlatan is 35 right now, it can’t always be up to him. We know Wayne Rooney’s time is coming to an end at United. There’s talk about Antoine Griezmann, maybe some other big, top players that I think he’ll try and bring in. Eric Bailly he’s backed and will continue to back and we know he likes Phil Jones, but Jones has had injury issues. We’re not sure how he feels about Smalling or Rojo. I think defensively you can see a lot of players added as well.
Inevitably players will be leaving and a lot will be leaving. You could see Carrick leaving, you could see Fellaini leaving, maybe Rojo. Does he get rid of Smalling? I still think it’s surprising given the squad. There’s very good players there. Of course, every team needs to make additions and Manchester United, being the size they are will always try and improve, but I don’t think there’s that many new guys that need to come in to make it a lot better. However, I think Jose will disagree and think they are nowhere near what they should be. My argument would be there’s a lot of international, top players at this club who are underachieving at the moment.
Q: Lastly, will Manchester United be in the Champions League next year?
RM: Well, I don’t think they finish in the top four so my thought is do they win the Europa League? They’ll be the favorites, you’ll see whatever style it takes to get through and win it, but I’m going to say no. Based on this team’s evidence, what we’ve seen over the course of the season so far that even in the Europa League there’ll be something that goes wrong. There will be something that goes wrong between now and the final of this competition. They’re not quite going to do it. I think that the bookmakers will have them the favorites, I get that, but I’m just backing my judgement that it’s not going well for Jose at the moment and they’ll find a way not to win the competition and won’t be in the Champions League for next season.