Jose Mourinho prides himself on doing exactly what Brighton & Hove Albion did.
Manchester United were all at sea on the south coast, flustered by a toothless team that were deservedly beaten 2-0 by Watford the previous week. By contrast, the Seagulls were predatory on Sunday, and there were plenty of things to peck and tear at. The shaken Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof couldn’t hold a straight line, continually creasing what was meant to be a flat back-four, and leaving vast gulfs between them. Glenn Murray’s sensational flick over David De Gea to open the scoring came after Gaetan Bong and Solly March prospered down the side of a 4-3-3 that crumbled like the nearby Seven Sisters cliffs. At the other end of the park, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial didn’t exchange one pass before the latter was withdrawn an hour into the meeting. Brighton were largely untroubled until Paul Pogba crashed in a 95th-minute consolation from the penalty spot. It was an well-earned 3-2 win.
When a Mourinho team ceases to be disciplined and defensively sound, the ability to win games by attrition is lessened. In fact, there isn’t really a point in a Mourinho team if those qualities dwindle. Brighton were organized and cohesive, while the lacking ideas at United were evident in Marouane Fellaini’s earlier-than-usual introduction. As a collective they were scared to make errors under their despotic overseer.
It would be a work of genius to deflect attention from such a lackluster defeat – easily one of the worst of Mourinho’s tenure – and there was discord that foreshadowed the Brighton woe.
The failure to bring in a defender to partner Bailly was an unequivocal failure. The fitness of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Lindelof – the Swede failed to track Murray for his goal – has been questionable, and each center-back doesn’t have the assurance needed from a squad meant to challenge for English football’s summit. Did no business in this department represent the reduced allure of United under Mourinho’s watch? Or, as was reported when the summer window closed, did the club hierarchy simply not rate those on Mourinho’s wishlist like Harry Maguire, Yerry Mina, and Jerome Boateng, thus refusing to sanction a move worth upwards of £70 million? Without protection from Nemanja Matic or the now-retired Michael Carrick in Sussex, the unstrengthened defense was exposed.
Displeasure had been voiced by Mourinho before a ball was kicked. He complained to the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson in mid-July that United’s preseason was “very bad” due to the late return of players that appeared in the World Cup – something pacesetters Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur have dealt with just fine – and continually faced questions about his alleged frayed relationship with Pogba.
Mourinho showed he was sensitive to these reports when he appointed Pogba as captain in the season opener against Leicester City, but it didn’t work.
“There are things, and there are things that I cannot say, otherwise I will get fined,” replied Pogba when quizzed on his relationship with Mourinho following the 2-1 win. The curtain drawn by Mourinho to hide the issues behind the scenes was ripped down by the French midfielder. Problems between the pair were practically confirmed.
There was also his assessment of the fly-on-the-wall documentary series covering rivals Manchester City’s historic 2017-18 term, “All or Nothing.” The production’s narrator indicated the Portuguese’s football is negative, leading Mourinho to surmise this week that “you can be a rich club and buy the best players in the world but you cannot buy class, and they showed that clearly.”
A scathing assessment of a club’s class would have normally led to shock and indignation but, given that it was aired by a man who continually uses press conferences as a springboard to criticize others, it broadly fell on deaf ears. An irksome handler was effectively throwing water balloons at thick lines of artillery.
“We were punished by the mistakes we made. For me that’s the story of the game. We made incredible mistakes in some crucial moments. Mistakes that killed us,” he told BBC’s Match of the Day in the wake of Sunday’s match.
Punishing mistakes is exactly what Mourinho’s United normally do. Without the ability to do that after an uncharacteristically abject defensive showing in the first period, the Red Devils limped to defeat.
Mourinho’s football is outdated, and was easily tamed by the hosts. The hallmarks of his oft-conservative and successful approach will have to come to the fore soon, otherwise football could pass him by and Mourinho may go the way of an old adversary he has infamously mocked at various junctures of his coaching career, Arsene Wenger.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)