Manchester United’s troubled season hit a new low on Saturday as Jose Mourinho saw his gamble on introducing a new tactical system backfire with an insipid 3-1 defeat to West Ham United in the Premier League.
After a week in which he had dropped Paul Pogba as vice-captain and seen his men ousted from the League Cup, Mourinho watched United’s faint title hopes dwindle further at the London Stadium with a new-look set-up but the same old prosaic fare.
Pogba was so ineffectual that he was substituted after 70 minutes but long before that Mourinho’s unfamiliar 3-5-2 line-up had been found wanting as record signing Felipe Anderson scored his first Hammers’ goal with an audacious back-foot flick after just five minutes.
Andriy Yarmolenko’s shot deflected off Victor Lindelof for an unlucky own goal just before the break but though substitute Marcus Rashford gave the visitors hope with a clever volleyed 71st-minute flick, Marko Arnautovic waltzed between United’s central defenders minutes later to seal victory.
Man United’s 10 points equals the club’s worst return after the first seven matches of any season in the Premier League era, heaping more pressure on Mourinho, whose brand of football seems to be delivering neither points nor pleasure to United’s fans.
United also had 10 points at this stage of the 2013-14 season but had a superior goal difference, so this year represents their poorest start in the top flight since 1989-1990.
Mourinho, whose uncomfortable-looking system featured a midfielder, Scott McTominay, playing on the right of a three-man defence, said he had no problems with the players’ attitude but did question their quality and “mental fragility”.
Suggesting that Pablo Zabaleta was offside when he delivered the cross for Anderson’s opening goal, Mourinho told BT Sport: “I have no complaints with the players’ attitude; I can have some complaints with some quality, with some mental approach in certain duels.”
He praised McTominay as “brave” and “the best” of his players with his quality on the ball but the 21-year-old never looked completely at home in his new role.
Mourinho left Alexis Sanchez out of the squad and gave Anthony Martial a start.
He explained: “People have been asking for ‘Martial, Martial, Martial’, people are saying Alexis Sanchez is not playing well enough, so this week I was trying to agree and to say ‘let’s give a chance to Martial and let’s leave Alexis out’.”
The switch proved in vain with both Martial and Romelu Lukaku, who headed against the post in the first half, proving largely ineffective.