Ibrahimovic in decline

The Manchester United Conundrum

After just ten games into the Premier League campaign, Manchester United looks to have fallen by the wayside despite being dubbed title contenders this season.

Jose Mourinho led Manchester United to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of his former employers thereby affirming his status as the “not so special one”.

The Red Devils have picked up 15 points in 9 games under Mourinho; a similar tally was amassed during David Moyes’ stint at the club after as many games.

Success is ingrained in Manchester United’s history, but things haven’t looked bright for the “biggest club in the world” ever since Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.

Fergie’s hand-picked successor David Moyes arrived at Old Trafford and nearly ran the club to the ground, Louis Van Gaal offered a bit more stability despite acquiring players who turned out to flop and letting go off United’s best players over the last six/seven years.

Then Jose Mourinho came along, a name with prestige and a pedigree few managers in the world have attained during their respective careers.

The Portuguese gaffer turned on the style at the start of the season with wins over Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull – what followed after those results are inconsistency, a phenomenon that has hindered many clubs from realising their full potential.

Despite having some of the best players in the world within their ranks, Manchester United risk fading into obscurity if this season doesn’t go according to plan, but it’s all dependant on a couple of factors.

Liverpool’s drop from the pinnacle of English football came unexpectedly, if United continue at this rate then it’ll be a while before we see them lift the Premier League title once again.

Let’s play the what-if game shall we,

The loss against Chelsea could be a blessing in disguise for the Red Devils as Mourinho can use it as a turning point which could then see United go on a run while the likes of Pogba and Ibrahimovic produce the goods and begin to live up to expectations.

But what if United can’t find their way out of their current predicament? What if Jose Mourinho has lost his touch? What if Zlatan is well past his prime and has next to nothing to offer Manchester United? Mourinho seems to have betrayed his practical nature with a calmer demeanour taking over what used to be an exciting manager who thrives in the midst of conflict.

His comments about Conte’s conduct could be the “old Jose” finding his way back out or it could simply just be an attempt to earn some sympathy from the media. Likewise, his sending off against Burnley – that’s more down to frustration than anything else.

Manchester United’s players were all smiles after the 4-0 thumping at Stamford Bridge; it came across as a bit of a surprise seeing as the team had just suffered an embarrassing defeat but saw it fit to stay, chat and exchange jerseys with the Chelsea players.

The game against Burnley had a gloomier feel to it as the players were well aware of its importance regarding getting back in the mix of things at the top end of the table.

Mourinho has been likened to Atleti’s Simeone in the past, and with good reason seeing as they both love winning more than anything else.

Diego Simeone’s recent success at Atletico has been due in large part to his players sharing a similar mentality. Simeone’s players deliver on a consistent basis as they understand how their gaffer thinks – an Understanding Manchester United’s players evidently lack.

The Title Race

There are just about six teams capable of clinching the title this season, United is one of them but how do they shape up against their fellow contenders?

City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool seem to be miles ahead of the Red Devils at the moment. When in reality United are just 8 points adrift of the top of the table.

It is a relatively easy gap to breach, but the big question is whether this United side can keep up with the rest of the pack?

The summer arrivals of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan provided cause for optimism amongst United fans – it’s fair to say that the buoyancy has turned into pessimism seeing as only Bailly has looked good thus far.

Pogba has shown some signs of class in a few games this season but certainly not £89m worth of class, Zlatan began the campaign on a high but has since fallen short of expectations as he’s yet to pick a Premier League goal in 6 games, and Mkhitaryan, it might be a while before we see him assume the mantle of United’s leading playmaker.

Bailly will be out for two to three months following a knee injury he suffered against Chelsea last time out, hence United’s backline could become exposed in subsequent fixtures.

Conte’s 3-4-3 is working wonders for Chelsea. Liverpool is in the red hot form, despite the setbacks. Manchester City still look accomplished of leading the pack. Arsenal has found consistency. Spurs are solid at the back, but Manchester United are in all sorts of trouble.

United was held to a 0-0 draw by Burnley in a stalemate that was undoubtedly preserved by the heroics of Tom Heaton. The Red Devils huffed and puffed, but Burnley’s rearguard action was too firm to give way despite multiple opportunities for the likes of Ibrahimovic and Mata to put the game to bed.

You can’t get into the top four by losing against fellow title contenders and the smaller sides – in his heydey, the Portuguese gaffer hardly succumbed to defeat against the big sides and utterly dominated against teams in the bottom half of the table.

Right now it’s a matter of context versus contrast seeing as United have picked up just one point out of a possible nine against title Challengers City, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Too early to write United off?

It’s far too early to write any team off at this stage; Jose still has ample time to fix things, while doing so he needs to make sure that his team is not far off from the rest of the contenders.

Chelsea suffered two losses in a row against Liverpool and Arsenal, since then the Blues have looked unstoppable – if anything, Chelsea’s case is exactly why United still have every chance of making it into the four and potentially winning the big prize.

Manchester United travel away to Swansea in their next League outing ahead of the big one against Arsenal.

With an international break coming shortly after the fixture with the Swans, Mourinho will be keen to taste victory In a bid to build momentum before his players join up with their respective national teams.

About the Author Phillip Ekuwem

Phillip is a football writer with an immense love and passion for the beautiful game. He's well versed in European football as he enjoys watching the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga and the Serie A.

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