Mourinho questions attitude of his players

Published: 19th September 2016 08:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th September 2016 08:56 AM   |  A+A-

Netherlands Soccer Eu_Mukh

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho | AP

LONDON: The lustre is already dimming: the sheen of Jose Mourinho's arrival as manager of Manchester United, the big summer signings and explosion of excitement, the strong start to the campaign with a string of victories.

Those three factors have been replaced by three successive defeats, with three performances of rising poverty, lowering confidence, and, maybe temporarily, the diminishing again of the Mourinho effect. Certainly there is uncertainty.

Mourinho had his own factors, however, for this damaging loss to Watford which otherwise appeared deserved. Three factors. Firstly he blamed referee Michael Oliver - claiming a foul should have been given on Anthony Martial, who seemed concussed and should have already been substituted, in the build-up to Watford's first goal. Secondly he rued that old intangible, "Lady Luck", and thirdly - and most emphatically - he did what he has done a little too often, a little too dangerously of late. He pointed the finger at the players.

This time Mourinho questioned their "mental attitude" - a big charge for big players in a big team - singling out his "left-back" (Luke Shaw) but also questioning mistakes by David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia.

"The third thing is what is in my hands - the improvement of the team, the improvement of the individual. Trying to stop defensive mistakes. And I knew I had a task," Mourinho said. "This is tactical but also a mental attitude. We have to improve - individually, collectively - and that's my job."

In fairness, Mourinho gave examples - drawing a parallel between Manchester City's first goal in last weekend's Manchester derby and Watford's second here when there was a loss of urgency, a lack of pressing. He blamed Shaw, while he admitted that the other defenders were culpable in conceding first-half opportunities to Watford that were spurned.

"We started the season very well and had good results," Mourinho added. "I feel the first moment we had a defeat, a difficult situation, some of the boys are having a bit of difficulty coping with the negativity."

Maybe so. But he appears to be struggling himself, also, after losing to City and then last Thursday in the Europa League away to Feyenoord and here in a raucous, full-throttle encounter at Vicarage Road. The Hornets buzzed and United were stung.

Most worryingly of all, is that for all the money spent, for all the big names acquired, United are now so heavily reliant on a fearless 18-year-old from the academy. Marcus Rashford - goalscorer again on his first league start under Mourinho - led the way.

The others? Too often they appear to play like individuals. No one can fault Paul Pogba's effort but he is struggling to fit in and looks a long way short of that world-record pounds 89?million transfer fee, although there was one moment of class when he shifted his feet and shivered the crossbar with a curling 25-yard shot when the contest was still goalless. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was far from clinical with the half-chances - and one golden chance - that fell his way.

Dwelling on United is inevitable but it should not totally eclipse an outstanding performance from Watford and their jack-in-the-box new manager, Walter Mazzarri, who has now put together back-to-back league wins, with seven goals scored, to settle any nerves. Playing like this, they can look towards the top half of the table not a relegation fight.

The outstanding players were in yellow - Etienne Capoue and Sebastian Prodl, in particular - and although United dominated second-half possession and although goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes produced a superb, one-handed flying save to turn away Ibrahimovic's goal-bound header (at 1-1 Mourinho said this was the key moment) they can point to a host of chances they created as they claimed their first win over United - after 11 successive defeats - in 30 years.

They could even afford to witness the worst miss of the season so far as De Gea and Smalling got in an inexplicable tangle after Prodl hoofed the ball forward and it dropped to Odion Ighalo. With an open goal, the striker drove his shot wide - and held his head in his hands for a full 30 seconds.

Troy Deeney then outsmarted Valencia to bullet a header which, similar to Gomes's later save, De Gea pushed away before Watford broke through. It came as Miguel Britos challenged Martial and the ball ran to Daryl Janmaat, who sprinted on before calmly drawing his low cross back to the onrushing Capoue, whose first-time shot skimmed off De Gea's boot and into the net.

Foul, cried Mourinho. And maybe so once the replays were scrutinised, but it was not an obvious call. What was, was that Martial should already have been substituted after clashing heads with Janmaat. The French international appeared groggy and held his ankle, then his head, after Britos's tackle before forlornly being helped off and replaced. Mourinho later brushed aside the issue.

For all United's possession the second-half drifted until suddenly Ibrahimovic and Rashford combined with the former's cross - aimed at the latter - rebounding off Valon Behrami. It dropped for Rashford and, from such close-range, the result was inevitable.

Once level would United go on? There was wave after wave of attack but little threat. Mazzarri made his changes; United made the mistakes and the result was settled when substitute Nordin Amrabat slid the ball through to the impressive Roberto Pereyra, who picked out Camilo Zuniga, another replacement. He slammed the ball beyond De Gea. It was the Colombian's first touch - he had only been on the pitch 53 seconds.

Deep into injury-time the third substitute, Isaac Success, was tripped by Ashley Young and Deeney stepped up to hammer his penalty kick high past the diving De Gea to prompt the home celebrations for Watford and the away recriminations for a forlorn United.

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