Manchester - Jose
Mourinho was condemned for his negative tactics after Manchester United
crashed out of the Champions League to Sevilla, with Alexis Sanchez
anonymous and Paul Pogba's confidence apparently in tatters.
United, riding high in the Premier League, started the second leg of
their last-16 tie on Tuesday as strong favourites to progress to the
quarter-finals after a goalless draw in Spain but mustered just four
shots on target across both legs.
Two late goals from substitute Wissam Ben Yedder gave the home side a
mountain to climb and a consolation goal from Romelu Lukaku was far too
little, too late, with United exiting the competition 2-1 on aggregate.
Mourinho fielded four forwards Sanchez, Lukaku, Marcus Rashford
and Jesse Lingard - in an attacking-looking line-up at Old Trafford but
United only broke free of the shackles in the desperate closing
A stubborn Mourinho, who has won the competition with Porto and Inter
Milan, said his side had not put in a "bad performance" but that
contrasted with the sour mood in Manchester after a first home European
defeat since 2013 to a Sevilla side only fifth in La Liga.
"If you are a team at home, the onus is on you to go out and attack
and make sure you take the game away from the opposing team," said
former United defender Rio Ferdinand, who won the Champions League under
Alex Ferguson in 2008.
The question for fans is why Mourinho is seemingly unable, or unwilling, to set his attacking superstars free.
Pogba, who cost a then world-record £89 million in
2016 as Mourinho's first big signing, was again dropped, this time in
favour of the more robust Marouane Fellaini, a decision that drew
stinging criticism from The Times newspaper.
"Fellaini was by no means United's worst player but what was he there
for exactly? To expose what failing in Seville? To bring what to
United’s midfield?," asked chief sports writer Matt Dickinson.
"True, he did go closer than his team-mates to breaking the deadlock
but if picking him always felt like turning up at a party with a
baseball bat, United were duly lacking in any subtlety. Creative passing
through central midfield was non-existent."
The Telegraph called United's display "embarrassingly inept".
Only once the situation was dire did Mourinho throw on another £70
million of attacking talent in Anthony Martial and Juan Mata to ride to
the rescue. But to no avail.
"There are players in that squad to play good attacking football with
the money that's been spent," said former United midfielder Paul
Scholes, also part of the team that won the 2008 Champions League.
A major investment was
also made to bring Sanchez to the club in January on reportedly the most
lucrative contract in Premier League history but he has been a huge
disappointment so far.
"Sanchez for one, he just looks a shadow of the player he was," said
Ferdinand. "When he was at Arsenal he was the one everyone looked to for
inspiration. Here, he just looks like a stranger in this team."
The mounting evidence suggests it is Mourinho's failure to harness
the best from his attacking players that is to blame, rather than a
clutch of stars going off the boil.
Despite the uncomfortable marriage between United's much-vaunted
attacking history and Mourinho's cagey tactics, the club have backed
their manager, rewarding him with a new contract until 2020 and he
hinted that even more cash may be thrown at fixing United's problems.
"Everything together (needs to improve), everybody spends money, not just us," said Mourinho.
The added problem for Mourinho is that runaway Premier League leaders
Manchester City are setting pulses racing and the likes of Liverpool
and Tottenham also play an exciting brand of football.
In contrast, Mourinho has little to fall back on when his results-driven approach fails to deliver.
"They approach every game conservatively, some games they get away with," said Scholes.
"The performance was very bad and they lost, as they rightly should
do, but there are a lot of performances exactly the same and they win
and it gets swept under the carpet."