LONDON: Jose Mourinho’s relationship with Paul Pogba plummeted to new depths this week and all eyes will be on the Manchester United teamsheet at West Ham on Saturday for the latest chapter in the saga.
United — already eight points behind leaders Liverpool in the Premier League — give the impression they are lurching from game to game and on the cusp of a full-blown crisis.
The team appeared to have turned the corner after an indifferent start to the season with three away wins on the bounce but a draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers and a shock League Cup defeat on penalties to Championship side Derby have set alarm bells ringing.
The Pogba factor is the big talking point but there are plenty of other issues to give United fans sleepless nights ahead of the game against newly resurgent West Ham.
Pogba v Mourinho
United boss Mourinho stripped Pogba of the vice-captaincy this week after the French World Cup star said the side should attack more, an implicit criticism of perceived negative tactics.
Mourinho, speaking after Tuesday’s League Cup exit, for which Pogba was rested, said there was “no fallout at all, no problem at all” regarding the decision.
But it does not look like that.
On Wednesday the pair were filmed in a tense-looking exchange at the club’s training ground and it is difficult to see how they can rebuild trust after the events of the past few days, particularly with fresh rumours linking Pogba with a move to Barcelona.
Pogba’s demotion is the latest twist in an acrimonious relationship dating back to last season, when Mourinho routinely dropped him for big games.
No attacking plan
United, famed for their gung-ho attacking flair under Alex Ferguson, often give the impression there is no coherent plan.
While Liverpool and Manchester City have a team shape and identity, United often appear reliant on one of their stars to conjure something special to make the difference.
Mourinho has a enviable list of attacking talent at his disposal, with Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard all competing for forward places.
But there is no settled combination and often little flow to their attacking play.
Out of the top nine sides in the Premier League, United, currently seventh, have scored the fewest goals, with nine so far.
Last season, they scored 38 goals fewer than champions City over the 38-game Premier League campaign.
It’s impossible to name United’s first-choice team.
Despite a huge financial outlay under Mourinho, there are too many players who are not stating their case as automatic picks.
David de Gea, Nemanja Matic, Lukaku — and Pogba up until now — are usually guaranteed starters but too many of the other players have failed to stake their claim.
Rashford, who has scored twice for England in recent weeks, has flattered to deceive in the red shirt of United while Martial’s inconsistent performances are a huge frustration for Mourinho.
But Sanchez is the biggest conundrum. Reportedly the highest earner in the Premier League, the Chile international has failed to reproduce his Arsenal form since his move to Old Trafford in January.
Former United winger Ryan Giggs has backed him to come good but the stark facts are that he has not opened his goalscoring account for United this season and has only completed 90 minutes once.