Neil Humphreys: Forget title, bring back fun, Mourinho
Mourinho's United seem so joyless in victory
Jose Mourinho spent last weekend moaning. He continued his moaning in midweek and spent much of a routine win at West Bromwich Albion looking like a man on death row.
|WEST BROM||MANCHESTER UNITED|
|(Gareth Barry 77)||(Romelu Lukaku 27, Jesse Lingard 35)|
And it seems contagious.
Heaven knows the red half of Manchester looks miserable now. Yes, Manchester United defeated the dreadful Baggies 2-1 this morning (Singapore time). Yes, they've now won six of their last seven games.
But it's genuinely hard to recall such a joyless Red Devils victory. They used to sing when they're winning. Now they struggle to crack a smile.
With almost six months of the season still to play, this is a bit of a PR problem.
Watching United has turned into a chore rather than an occasion to cherish.
Dealing with the noisy neighbours must be exasperating. Manchester City are not just leading the charge, they're strutting towards the summit.
It's clearly driving Mourinho to distraction. Second best has never been good enough for the coach or the club he's managing.
But they've rarely been this bereft of ingenuity, excitement and vigour either. If they can't bring back the title, can they at least bring back a little fun?
Considering the club have spent around £660 million (S$1.2 billion) since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, it doesn't seem too much to ask for.
West Brom really were woeful opposition - their goal broke a drought that stretched to six hours - and yet United struggled to prevail and were hanging on at the end.
Their breakthrough in the game came with Romelu Lukaku's opener. For the previous 26 minutes, there hadn't been a game.
Until then, the Hawthorns threatened to host a holding exercise, masquerading as sporting entertainment. It was awful.
Before the game, Mourinho was reportedly unhappy with Louis van Gaal's pot-shots at United's pedestrian play, which was hardly surprising.
Mourinho is unhappy about everything these days and United's pedestrian play can be infuriating. At times, both are boring.
Before kick-off, a popular stat doing the rounds was the one about this season being United's best start to a campaign since Ferguson's final title-winning season in 2012-2013.
But the flattering comparison was rather like lumping Leonardo di Vinci with a theme park caricaturist because they both painted faces.
A more relevant stat might be the one about seven of the 11 starters being at United when Ferguson was still in the dugout.
More than a billion dollars has been spent and every one of the back four (along with David de Gea) were signed during the Fergie era, a scathing indictment of the club's transfer policy.
They certainly don't look like a billion dollars.
Against Alan Pardew's ultra-cautious Baggies, United's defensive six were rarely troubled, but struggled to move the ball quickly.
Mourinho's men are an obvious upgrade on van Gaal's plodders, but if there is one similarity, it's in their transitional play.
They're too slow moving from back to front.
In midfield, they give the impression that they're wading through treacle.
Fortunately, Nemanja Matic seized the initiative. Once the Serb realised that West Brom's attacking threat was negligible, he stepped forward.
His surge from midfield released Marcus Rashford. The English speedster's whipped cross found Lukaku, who sent a fine glancing header into the top corner.
In essence, United needed 27 minutes to realise that West Brom were rubbish.
They needed only another eight minutes to double their advantage.
Jesse Lingard's hopeful effort from 20 metres clipped Ahmed Hegazi's leg and spun away from a blindsided Ben Foster.
Two quick goals against timid opposition should've ended a dull game before half-time.
But the Baggies somehow found a breakthrough.
From a corner, United's defence failed to clear and as the pinball played out in the box, substitute Gareth Barry tapped in from six metres on 77 minutes.
In the dugout, Mourinho rejigged his facial features to look even more miserable than usual.
But that's entertainment at United right now.
They can't win the title. But they can certainly play better than this.