One loss for Manchester United doesn’t make for despair but it’s a sign of what is to come.
For nearly three decades, Manchester United were the team to beat. They won trophies freely, they signed the best players without competition, they topped the spending charts and had the most (and loudest) fans around the world.
The end of the Ferguson-era has brought about change. They are no longer the best team in the land. No, that mantle has been transferred across town to Manchester City. No longer the ‘noisy neighbours’, the light blue brigade are armed with the best squad in England and are runaway favourites even with the rejuvenation of Liverpool.
Rejuvenation might be a strong word because for all of the change under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds still lack trophies. That is after all the mark of a team’s success. Liverpool spent heavily in the transfer window and added players in key areas – for the first time since Pepe Reina, they have a goalkeeper of substance. Naby Keita looks to be one to one to with many United fans left scratching their heads as to how Keita landed in Liverpool and Fred, a fringe Brazilian, made his move to the Theatre of Dreams. Even that term, to label Old Trafford, has been used sparingly.
Jose Mourinho, together with Ed Woodward, have failed to lure any of the best talent to Old Trafford. Keita and Fabinho went to Liverpool, Kovacic to Chelsea, Mahrez to City and former star player, Cristiano Ronaldo? He went to Juventus.
The best names in the world simply don’t find United an attractive ‘project’. The club has all the finances -thanks to a myriad of commercial deals that have no value to prospects on the pitch – in the world but can’t buy a team worthy of attracting the best players.
In money stakes, United still lead the way but fans don’t crave positive balance sheets. They want trophies. They want to attract the world’s best and then watch the Red Devils beat all their challengers. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
For many fans, this new-United is an unfamiliar one. Supporters have little to cheer and a lot to worry about after a miserable transfer window and the loss to Brighton. Simply put, if you can’t beat Brighton, then how do you plan on winning a 38-game race against Manchester City?
Does Jose Mourinho have a plan? From the couch, it appears those that play against him do. United can’t handle being pressed and don’t have the players capable of playing out from the back. One mistake in their half and the pressure is piled on. Pressured players make mistakes – take Eric Bailly’s foul for example.
It’s a blueprint likely to be followed by the rest of the league’ ‘minnows’ this term. Mourinho, who’s peace battle with Paul Pogba has shown more intensity than his side’s entire midfield so far this season, must find a way out as this sinking feeling starts becoming the natural state.
It’s unfamiliar territory for all connected with the club.