Manchester United's big problem is Jose Mourinho
After just two games, Manchester United's season is looking as difficult as manager Jose Mourinho predicted it would be after his team suffered a stunning 3-2 defeat to Brighton.
Though United looked strong early on, everything changed in the 25th minute when Glen Murray slipped past the Red Devils' central defense and beat David de Gea with a flick of his boot. Two minutes later, Shane Duffy doubled Brighton's lead when he slammed home a ball the defense was unable to clear. Clearly shell-shocked, United pulled one back thanks to a Romelu Lukaku header in the 34th, but a sloppy clearance from de Gea and a clumsy foul by Eric Bailly combined to gift Brighton a penalty, which Pascal Gross calmly converted to snuff out the United comeback before the interval.
Two halftime substitutions gave the Red Devils a boost, but an excellent Brighton side was able to sit back and let its opponents tire themselves out trying to get anything from a disjointed mess of an attack. A late penalty by Paul Pogba made things appear closer than they really were, but when the final whistle blew it was clear who the superior side was.
It was a chastening result for United and one that severely damages its title hopes. When a team is competing with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham for the title, it can't afford to drop points against a team it should beat. United is the first to do so, and despite some shambolic defense and uninspiring offense, the main culprit appears to be none other than the manager himself.
During the club's disastrous tour of the United States this summer, Mourinho told anyone within earshot that his team, one of the most expensive ever assembled, faced a “difficult season” unless it brought in new recruits, which it didn't. He also warned that the team's first two games against Leicester and Brighton, two teams with a fraction of his side's resources, would be dangerous because each was better prepared for the season. And, lo and behold, the cantankerous Portuguese manager's moaning has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mourinho can't be solely blamed for his team's terrible display against Brighton, but his negativity is clearly affecting his players. The near-constant complaining about the transfer market has made it clear to them, particularly his defense, that he doesn't think they're good enough. There are also several — Pogba and Anthony Martial, in particular — he's called out relentlessly and mercilessly for no reason. Mourinho has made it clear who he thinks is holding the team back, but it's his increasingly muddled and outdated tactics that need true re-evaluation. A team needs confidence to play its best, and Mourinho has ensured his team has none.
That this is happening in his third season at the club should come as no surprise to anyone. As seen at Chelsea and Real Madrid, Mourinho has a tendency to self-combust during his third campaign, getting fired during or after the season. And with a tough game against Tottenham coming up next week it's hard not to see things getting worse. If United wants to challenge this season, and Mourinho still wants to be in his post this time next year, something drastic has to change and quick.