Gary Neville believes Manchester United’s struggles can be traced to their problems in midfield and says United need to find a way to get the best out of Paul Pogba if they are to turn around their slump in form.
Despite the obvious problems at his former club, Neville insists they should not panic and instead trust in the manager. Jose Mourinho is only a few short months into his tenure and must be given the time to get it right at United.
Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast after watching United’s defeat at Stamford Bridge, Neville spoke about the issues in midfield that are making it difficult for Mourinho. Looking back at the poor performances throughout the side yesterday, it must be asked; does Mourinho even know his best team?
“I think one of the things that was different for United compared to Monday night (against Liverpool) was they had control in the midfield, with Fellaini and Herrera alongside each other.
“Fellaini played so high in the game today. I am not sure if that was something he was told to do, but it just didn’t work. It meant he was detached from Herrera who seemed to be exposed and for United it was not a good 45 minutes.
“I know Fellaini has had a lot of stick over the last couple of seasons with people saying he is not a Manchester United player and it is obvious to see his lack of quality in certain areas, but I thought today he was really poor.
“In the first half he had a really terrible game and it was no surprise he came off and I think Herrera dropped a level after being brilliant at Anfield.”
In the midst of United’s humiliation in West London, Paul Pogba’s anonymity almost fell through the cracks. If Mourinho is to solve his midfield conundrum, he must first figure out how to get the best out of his £89million signing.
“Pogba is no doubt confused. He has been signed for such a huge fee and I look at him and it was a difficult day for him. It was difficult for him at times at Anfield as a No 10, so at the moment, I think Jose Mourinho is trying to find a way to incorporate him and when you sign a player for that level of money, you somehow have to make it fit.”
After a defeat of such magnitude, every man, and his dog is lining up to give their opinion. Jose Mourinho has received a lot of criticism from several pundits claiming this poor run of form is unacceptable for a club who spent in the region of £150million this summer. Despite the large investment, Mourinho is still rebuilding. He brought in just four players this summer and Neville is adamant he must be given time to complete the rebuilding job that was butchered by his predecessors.
“I have to say when I look at United I still don’t know what their best XI is. Mourinho is still early in his reign, he is identifying his best players, his best XI, his best partnerships.
“To be fair, United have to trust him and will trust him to get it right over the next couple of transfer windows, because if you look at their midfield, they have Pogba, (Morgan) Schneiderlin and Fellaini; that is £170m spent on central midfielders in the last three years and I still don’t know which is the best pairing. Mourinho has got to try and build a pair or replace them.
“There is a lot of work to do for United, but as a United fan I am not alarmed. I thought that they would be better at the start of the season. Maybe that was a thought of Mourinho having a massive impact, but when you look at it today, that’s not a Jose Mourinho team at all.
“He has got to work with them, he’s got to get more out of them. He can’t do anything over the next three months and it will be difficult in January.”
Neville’s point about it not being a ‘Mourinho team’ is an important one. Many of these players, particularly those underperforming, are not Mourinho players. He will have seen the level of performance and know it is not good enough and certain players will be moved on. Mourinho can and will continue to shape this squad so until then until more than just a handful are Mourinho’s players, there should not be an overreaction when things go wrong.
Of course, there will be an overreaction. Losing 4-0 to Chelsea, sitting six points adrift of the top of the league and failing to score in two consecutive Premier League matches will create a frenzy amongst supporters. Neville anticipates such an overreaction but warns against, insisting there is no need to panic with the league season still in its infancy.
“There will be a massive overreaction to the game, Jose Mourinho will come under huge pressure and it will be ramped up ahead of the derby on Wednesday. I am quite relaxed.
“When you are a Manchester United fan for 30 years, for 50 years, you are going to have difficult times like these and you have to accept when they come along and be mature about it.
“They have got a fantastic manager who has been proven in every league in Europe nearly, and they have to allow him to do his job methodically over the next two to three years, get it right.
“There has been some poor management, some poor recruitment decisions and there have been players signed who are not Manchester United players. I am not talking about talent, I am talking about profile.
“Pogba and (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic are more Manchester United players in my mind in terms of personality and the physical aspect, so I do think ultimately Mourinho is on the right track in terms of recruitment.
“They have got to continue to do that and they have got to move away some of the previous, which will be difficult because they are on big contracts, but he doesn’t panic in the transfer market.”
Everything about Manchester United points to a difficult rebuilding job. The last three years has proven that following Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign was always going to be a herculean task. Both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal got it hopelessly wrong and now Mourinho is paying for their mistakes as well. With a core of talented young players, one or two superstars and a proven manager, Manchester United have everything they need to finally return to the pinnacle of world football. All that is needed now is a little bit of patience and a whole lot of hard work.