Jose Mourinho faces huge early Manchester United test

Manchester United face an uphill challenge to qualify for the Champions League next season given their underwhelming start to life under Jose Mourinho. Supporters of the Red Devils expected the club to return to the dominance they displayed during the tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson. However, defeats to bitter rivals Manchester City and Chelsea have raised questions over whether they will be able to challenge for the Premier League title or even a top four place this term.

One of the bright spots for Mourinho, early into the campaign has been his side’s form in the Europa League, although that even started with an away loss at Feyenoord. Back-to-back wins over Zorya Luhansk and Fenerbahce have improved the situation, but United still have a lot work ahead of them to ensure they qualify for the next round of the competition.

Due to the fact that the winner of the Europa League earns a spot in the Champions League for next season, the tournament takes on greater significance for Mourinho and his team. The Red Devils are backed in the latest Europa League betting odds at 5/1 to win the competition, which means that despite their ongoing issues they are still considered one of the leading contenders to win the crown.

United’s goal scoring consistency will concern Mourinho, given their propensity to either be firing on all cylinders in front of the net or to struggle immensely. They were on top form against Leicester City and Fenerbahce scoring four goals apiece, but in turn have looked very ordinary in their defeats to Chelsea and Feyenoord.

After a strong start to the season Zlatan Ibrahmovic has scored just once in his last eight matches, failing to make the most of his opportunities leading the line. Marcus Rashford has been deployed on the left flank and has not seen much time playing through the middle as the central striker, while Anthony Martial has notched just two goals in his 11 appearances.

Wayne Rooney’s decline has been alarming with the United skipper failing to see much of the pitch for Mourinho’s men this season. For the Red Devils to win the Europa League they will need their attacking players to fire, and whether that includes pushing Paul Pogba into an advanced role, while also getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan involved at all remains to be seen.

CC BY 2.0. Sean MacEntee.
CC BY 2.0. Sean MacEntee.

The Portuguese set up his team to defend against Liverpool and his tactics worked to perfection as his side thwarted the Reds, claiming a goalless draw in their trip to Anfield. However, they fell to pieces against Chelsea, and were cut open with ease against Man City although the scoreline didn’t reflect Pep Guardiola’s men’s dominance at Old Trafford.

Eric Bailly’s knee injury could cause further problems for United at the back. The 22-year-old has been the club’s best player in defence this term and his absence could be create a host of issues given Chris Smalling and Daley Blind’s poor form, while Phil Jones remains sidelined with a knee injury.

The Red Devils cannot afford another slip-up in the Europa League and put themselves under greater pressure to perform on Thursdays, which in turn could have a knock-on effect in the Premier League. Mourinho faces an early test in his tenure at Old Trafford. If he succeeds than the club can get back on the path towards becoming a force in the English and European game. However, a failure could potentially derail his career at the top of the managerial ladder and put United further behind their rivals on the domestic front.