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Pressing questions for Man United as Mourinho’s grip on second place weakens

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Manchester United’s Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho. AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY

Too often, United look like a bunch of expensively assembled individuals who grind out results than a well-oiled team, a consequence, to a large extent, of a clash of so many different managerial styles in such a relatively short space of time that has led, as one observer put it, to a Frankenstein-like squad.

No one looks more confused at the moment than midfielder Paul Pogba, whom Mourinho still seems unsure about how best to utilise and who was substituted for the second successive away game on Sunday after following up a sorry showing in the 2-0 defeat at Spurs with another forgettable outing in the 1-0 loss at Newcastle.

Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool midfielder, once again reiterated the view at the weekend that Pogba cannot be trusted in a midfield two, especially in bigger games, and the evidence certainly suggests the £89 million Frenchman is at his most effective on the left of a midfield three with less responsibility defensively and more freedom to drift wide.

He thrived at Juventus playing that role and his best performance for United this term came in a similar position in a 2-0 win against Everton last month.

Why can’t Jose Mourinho get the most out of Paul Pogba?
Where have the goals gone?
Mourinho claimed United could have played for another 10 hours against Newcastle and not scored but his side’s problems in front of goal have been building for some time.
United have scored just 17 times in their past 12 Premier League outings, almost half the total of City over the same period, significantly less than Spurs (29) and Liverpool (28) and four fewer than Chelsea. Only once have they found the net more than twice in a league game in that time. By contrast, Chelsea and Tottenham have achieved that four times, Liverpool five and City on eight occasions.

Too many of their forwards on are barren runs. Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial each have six goals in their past 20 league games, Marcus Rashford just two in 20. Alexis Sanchez has scored once in three league fixtures since arriving from Arsenal – and that was the rebound from a missed penalty.

United have been leaning heavily on Jesse Lingard with seven goals in his past 14 league games but he has not scored in the last five of those.
Why are we still seeing Fergie’s defence play?

Despite being without their best defender, Eric Bailly, since early November, United have the best defensive record in the Premier League. They are doing something right. But there are also clear questions.

United have spent upwards of £615 million since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 and yet against Spurs and Newcastle they fielded back fours compromising two of Ferguson’s old wingers (Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young) and two of his centre-halves (Phil Jones and Chris Smalling).


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