Who else deserves blame for Manchester United's form?
Manchester United's ongoing saga seems destined to end in Jose Mourinho's doom. Ed Woodward might already be planning for his successor. Blame from all quarters hurtles at the manager. While responsibility always lies with the boss, the players are equally complicit.
Roy Keane recently stated every player, regardless his relationship with the manager, is accountable to the club and the fans. Professionals will leave the talk in the dressing room to devote their focus fully to the match for those 90 minutes. United’s players are yet to do that. Are we missing the point while following the media's narrative? Is this all on the manager or are the players also to blame?
A few performances brought a glimmer of hope, before the match against Valencia revived the Moyesian era. Beginning at the back and working forward, let's look at the squad to determine how culpable the players might be.
David De Gea put his World Cup ghosts behind him. Again, he's producing critical saves, this season. He remains among the best United players on the pitch. Ed Woodward must have the sense to tie him down with a long-term contract.
What about the defenders? Eric Bailly is chronically injured, although, when he does play, he's always committed and up for the challenge. Against Valencia, he put up a decent display, justifying his place in the starting lineup.
Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof are the most used pair this season. Despite the occasional performance, neither's been rock solid.
Luke Shaw's been sensational this season. The left-back puts in a shift every game, offering options going forward.
Antonio Valencia's forgotten how to cross and was repeatedly caught out of position against Los Che. Diogo Dalot’s transition into the starting XI should be accelerated, otherwise United will continue to look like a dog walking on three legs.
Inconsistency and a wasted transfer window are why Mourinho experimented with technically skilled midfielders Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay in a three-man defence to build out from the back. Both gambles came up craps and Mourinho hasn't the patience to roll the dice again.
In the midfield, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba all logged decent performances. Pogba is inconsistent, lapsing into his tendency to take on all defenders when the going gets tough. Fellaini's work demonstrates why Mourinho wanted him to stay so desperately. Matic’s display against Valencia recalled his play at this stage last season. Vigilant in front of the back three, he regularly aided in ball recovery.
The biggest problem seems to be the forwards. Romelu Lukaku has been in fine form for, wait for it, his national team. However, with the Red Devils who pay his bills, the Belgian has missed more than a few sitters. Had he converted them, you wouldn't be reading this. United would be in the top four. I'd be offering my opinion on whether they could hang in with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea for the duration.
Alexis Sanchez continues to lose possession every three minutes. It's no secret why the Chilean's so passionate about dogs. They always bring the ball back. Cutting inside to shoot from 20 yards or majestically slotting through-balls is no longer in his [ahem] arsenal.
Anthony Martial put in a once-in-a-blue-moon display last match, just to show what he can do. But that’s that.
The issue remains. United's forwards are stagnant. The midfielders and fullbacks want to come in dangerous positions, to cross or set up a play. The attacking four no longer make runs to create space. They seem to be planning tea with their markers. Without the intelligence of the ball, there’s no scope for crosses. Antonio Valencia (despite his issues) and Paul Pogba both had a go at Lukaku when they failed to see any movement.
The front-three needs help and support to remind them how to take positions. It’s awkward to see them hanging around opposition defenders instead of making space. These are skills they've had for ages. The coach can't be blamed for their abandonment.
Maybe there’s more to United’s form than just Mourinho. Perhaps players should take responsibility for themselves. Changing the coach isn’t going to change that.