Man United’s biggest problem ignored amid Mourinho’s excuses

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MANCHESTER — Jose Mourinho refused to blame his players for a sub-par display in the Manchester Derby on Sunday, as his Manchester United team lost 3-1 at Manchester City and are now closer to the bottom three of the Premier League than the top.

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Instead, Mourinho rattled off excuse after excuse as United lost for the fourth team in 12 games this season after yet another slow start. In the aftermath of the defeat, instead of highlighting United’s issues, Mourinho delivered excuse after excuse. He took the easy option.

City are 12 points ahead of United and along with Liverpool, Chelsea and even Tottenham they look set for a title tussle. United are so far from that it is scary as they’ve had to rely on late comebacks to drag them up the table in recent weeks. The wins over Bournemouth and Everton, plus the miraculous late comeback at Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, have given United’s fans false hope that this season could still be a success.

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Despite their late shows, the Red Devils are seven points off the top four and currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League. They’ve now conceded 21 goals in their opening 12 games of the season and for the first time since 1977 they have a negative goal difference at this stage of a campaign. That porous defense is a stain on Mourinho’s proud record as a defensive mastermind, and the fact he is ignoring that issue is most concerning as United continue to struggle.

Once again United could not carry out Mourinho’s defensive plan as he set his team up in a 4-5-1 formation and had three scrappers in midfield (Matic, Herrera and Fellaini) and the pace of Marcus Rashford to unleash on the break. It didn’t work, at all, and United looked far better when they chucked players forward in the second half as they tried to get back in the game after going 2-0 down. In truth, it was Ederson who handed them the initiative with a poor challenge to give United a penalty kick.

After the game Mourinho was asked if the derby summed up why City are pushing for a second-straight title and United, who finished a distant second behind them last season, are now solely focused on trying to finish in the top four.

“If you focus on all of the game today. The game was open for 80 something minutes, I think nobody left the stadium before their third goal, for sure, because the game was open until then,” Mourinho told reporters. “In a week where Man City played at home three matches and we played three matches away, in a week where they enjoyed two 6-0 and 6-1 victories, relaxed, no pressure, no mental effort, everything nice and easy. We played two matches away, difficult ones and the second one was like a final for us against one of the best teams in Europe, a game that demanded from us everything we had to give physically and mentally.

“When I analyze the game today I think the difference was — you can go for stats, that is the way people that don’t understand football analyze football, is with stats — but I don’t go for stats. I go for what I felt and what I watch in the game. The game was there until minute 80 something. I consider the performance of my team as a performance with mistakes. That is different than a bad performance. We made mistakes, we were punished for these mistakes. The performances, the mentality, the togetherness, belief, the fight until the end is something we are building and we are not going to lose that because of a defeat.”

That excuse about suffering from fatigue surfaced again and although United’s four-game PL unbeaten run is over, Mourinho is adamant they’re moving in the right direction.

After being asked if their poor defensive record shows he should have been handed a new center back in the summer transfer window, Mourinho praised the displays of center back pairing Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof and said he would not hammer Luke Shaw as he has played week in, week out this season.

“The game against Juventus was hard physically and mentally. I am with my players,” Mourinho said. “I am even with my players that today made the mistakes that led to Man City’s goals. We are together. We are not going to be effected by this. I am sorry we don’t play the next match soon and we have to wait 15 days for that but we are improving. We are improving and we go together until the end.”

What is at the end of this season remains to be seen, but United’s slim chances of winning the title are now over and a top four would now be a remarkable achievement.

Mourinho was asked about Paul Pogba being out injured for the derby and how that impacted his team. Another excuse soon arrived.

“I don’t like to lose a game and talk about this player who wasn’t here. But he is important for us in many aspects of the game. Because he didn’t play we had to play Fellaini who wasn’t ready to play for 90 minutes,” Mourinho said. “I can imagine when the result was 2-1, if we bring a fresh Fellaini on, I think they (Man City) would be in big, big trouble. When the result was 2-1 and it was the moment we had that final push, it was the moment Fellaini was doing an incredible effort to stay on the pitch. Not fit at all. Risking his injury and his condition and giving everything to the team. Clearly one thing is to have a fresh Fellaini and another to play him for 90 minutes in this match. Yes, we missed Paul but that doesn’t mean with Paul we win the game. That is not an excuse.”

The fact is, Mourinho delivered many excuses as to why United didn’t turn up for the derby and why they were dominated by Man City. The one thing he hasn’t delivered answers to are the same issues which have plagued United so far this season and leave them languishing outside the top four.