Mourinho's inexplicable loyalty to Rooney is costing United
Manager's refusal to drop Rooney shows fear and weakness
(Etienne Capoue 34, Juan Zuniga 83, Troy Deeney 90+5-pen)
MAN UNITED 1
(Marcus Rashford 62)
Wayne Rooney shouldn't be in Manchester United's line-up.
On current form, he shouldn't be on the bench because there is no form, just a series of abject, bewildering performances.
But the fault no longer lies with a declining legend, fast turning into an exhausted thoroughbred being told to perform tricks at a travelling circus.
It lies with the ringmaster. And Jose Mourinho looks a jaded leader.
The 3-1 loss at Watford leaves United in a crisis, a genuine, red-light blinking crisis, not because of a third defeat in three games, but because of the underlying weakness in the dugout.
Mourinho's misplaced belief in presenting himself as a dignified, respectful club statesman, rather than the outspoken dictator that made him the most successful manager in the game is damaging United.
The new Mourinho feels like an imposter because the old Mourinho would drop Rooney.
The old Mourinho would usher a wounded giant towards a lucrative pension elsewhere.
At Real Madrid, Mourinho made a statement with Raul, a messianic figure among the Madridistas, ignoring the icon's resume and focusing only on his form. There wasn't any. Raul's Real career was just about done.
The parallels between Raul and Rooney are uncanny except in the most obvious regard. Rooney remains an omnipresent footballer at United.
Against Watford, the club captain began in midfield, finished in the No. 10 role and contributed nothing in either position. His passing was typically erratic and he was dispossessed far too easily.
But Mourinho left his club legend to wander further into the wilderness for the full 95 minutes.
The on-going obsession with Rooney is valid in this instance because his selection hints at tactical and leadership indecision in the dugout.
Rooney's involvement essentially negated the pace of Marcus Rashford, who rarely saw the ball until his goal. More importantly, the skipper forces the world's most expensive signing into a less effective position.
Paul Pogba was once again desperately below-par, but he's partially out of position and entirely out of sync with his partner.
Pogba and Marouane Fellaini go together like Clinton and Trump, an elegant, industrious midfielder alongside an unapologetic bruiser.
Lost in Watford's five-man midfield, Pogba misplaced passes far too often, scarcely resembling the Juventus powerhouse of last season.
He niggled and scrapped and picked up a booking, struggling to hide his frustration. Apart from an outstanding strike that crashed against the crossbar, his contribution was negligible. He wasn't alone.
For much of the game, United were uninspired and pedestrian.
Mourinho's greatest successes were always built on a pragmatic 4-2-3-1 that relied on incisive wingers and a totemic presence up front.
On paper, United have that. In reality, they are mimicking that insufferable meandering under Louis van Gaal.
From the boardroom to the cheap seats, United's support base grudgingly acknowledged that the Mourinho model of 2016 was a compromise, an appointment out of necessity rather than choice.
They weren't expecting sublime football. They were expecting success. If this laboured dross endures, they're going to get neither.
Every decision reeks of a safety-first caution, the antithesis of United's greatest sides and it appeared contagious.
Anthony Martial has lost both confidence and a cutting edge. His clumsy contribution to Watford's goal will generate discussion, but the "was he fouled" debate misses the point.
He was too slow in making a clearance. He faced the wrong direction and then lost his footing. Daryl Janmaat's eventual cutback led to Etienne Capoue's lovely side-footed finish.
United improved in the second half - against a side with only one win before last night - and a rare splash of speed earned an equaliser.
Rashford, who often resembled a scampering toddler playing football with his grandparents, played an intelligent one-two with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The young striker met the Swede's cross, but his header was blocked. Rashford reacted fastest to hammer home the rebound.
Whether United warranted an equaliser was debatable, but proved a moot point when Watford found their sensational second goal from an unlikely source.
Substitute Juan Zuniga had enjoyed less than a minute of the match when he curled in an exquisite strike past David de Gea.
And worse was still to come for United.
In the 95rd minute, Troy Deeney smashed in a penalty, turning the hosts' dreams into a dizzying reality.
United's reality, on the other hand, is the stuff of nightmares.
Three defeats in three games hurt. The first loss to Watford in 30 years irritates. But the real crisis rests between manager and captain.
Mourinho will never lift United until he drops their fallen idol.
Something’s not right there. The cohesion of the team isn’t there. Mourinho needs to find the right mix of players.
— Former Man United midfielder Paul Scholes