Neil Humphreys: Stale United can't rely on Fellaini
Mourinho needs a better game plan than hitting high balls into the box
Manchester United had largely run out of ideas.
The call went out for the human microphone to hit the right notes, the only notes in his limited repertoire.
The man with the mop was sent on to clean up a Red Devils mess.
And the move almost worked.
Marouane Fellaini's introduction added an immediate physicality, United pulled a goal back to keep the scoreline respectable and eventually lost 2-1 to Real Madrid yesterday morning (Singapore time).
But Fellaini surely cannot be the way forward.
United must seek an alternative route to goal, particularly when the Uefa Super Cup final's close scoreline was such a smokescreen.
Real rarely raised their game beyond the pedestrian and yet United offered little beyond throwing on the big man and chasing knock-downs.
Fellaini certainly improved United, by some distance, which should concern the Old Trafford faithful.
Jose Mourinho finds himself plagiarising the David Moyes playbook. It's Groundhog Day, only the furry mammal is a Belgian, rather than a rodent.
But Moyes was two managers and half a billion dollars ago and yet the Red Devils are still searching for the towering afro to salvage games.
Mourinho sent out his three new signings, collectively worth £145.7 million (S$258.2m), but United struggled against a Real side without Cristiano Ronaldo - until the 83rd minute.
As expected, Nemanja Matic provided the star turn, but Victor Lindelof went AWOL (absent without official leave) for Real's opener and laboured throughout.
Romelu Lukaku, on the other hand, lived up to the Lukaku stereotype so effectively he came close to parodying himself.
He tucked away one rebound, but missed an easier rebound from four metres. He occasionally got in his teammates' way and allowed sceptics to question that £75 million price tag.
He'll still score goals though. Where those goals will come from is the bigger concern.
United's forward line still retains an emaciated look, a kind of lightweight hangover left over from the Louis van Gaal era.
Mourinho's love of brute strength and incisive counter-attacking is well established; hence his pursuit of Ivan Perisic and Gareth Bale because United were more power-puff than Champions League contenders.
Real's dominance was slightly curtailed when Ander Herrera went off for Fellaini, but United's flimsiness clearly irritated Mourinho throughout.
His underwhelming back three was switched to a conventional four and then reverted to a three as Mourinho tried - and largely failed - to curb the enthusiasm of the outstanding Isco at the top of Real's impenetrable midfield diamond.
Poor Jesse Lingard was so ineffective on United's left, he was removed at half-time, but he wasn't the only culprit.
Lindelof, Matteo Darmian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Herrera were either easily dispossessed or intimidated in their respective positions.
Much has been made of Mourinho's title success in his second season at previous clubs, but the unifying characteristic in all those line-ups was a granite-like solidity from front to back.
Against Real, only Matic and Fellaini really displayed those qualities - the strong, imposing Mourinho archetypes that delivered silverware in the past.
Towards the latter stages, United had resorted to floating balls towards the penalty spot, an orthodox approach that may work against lesser opposition in the English Premier League.
And United should be comforted by the fact that they'll never face a side as accomplished as Real in domestic football.
But half a billion dollars spent on a transitional side should at least buy a back-up plan, an alternative to a rudimentary strategy championed by Moyes - and ridiculed by his critics - four years ago.
More importantly, it won't work, not when it really counts.
Floated balls towards Fellaini, or even Lukaku for that matter, won't unduly concern the Champions League's heavyweights.
Real's intricate play around the box was far more nuanced, varied and effective.
Their fleet of foot complemented their speed of thought, swopping passes and skipping tackles like ballet dancers making their way through Jurassic Park.
Mourinho may feel he has the squad depth to challenge for the title, if he imposes his suffocating tactics in key EPL contests.
But if United are serious about the Champions League, too, they'll need something more than thumping high balls towards their Belgian twin towers.
They'll need to go shopping again.