Manchester United suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Fenerbahce in the Europa League group-stage game on Thursday in Istanbul.
Moussa Sow gave Fenerbahce the lead in the second minute with a stunning bicycle kick, and Jermain Lens doubled their lead with a fantastic free-kick, which left United goalkeeper David de Gea rooted to his spot.
In the 87th minute, skipper Wayne Rooney showed glimpses of his old-self as he belted a long-range home with hosts’ keeper Volkan Demirel having no chance. The goal, however stood only as a consolation, as Jose Mourinho endured another frustrating night.
Ahead of trip to Swansea City in the Premier League, here are five vital questions for Mourinho.
1. Where is the creativity?
The defeat at Fenerbahce rounded up another disappointing European night for United. Prior to Fenerbahce, United hosted Burney in the Premier League, and despite having 37 shots and creating a series of chances, United failed to score a single goal; courtesy heroics from ex-Reds goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
On Thursday, United struggled to create any openings at all, and despite enjoying 70 per cent possession, they could only muster three shots on target.
The visitors lacked composure and cohesion on and off the ball. There was no creativity whatsoever as the players found it difficult to stitch passes and create any sorts of chances. Juan Mata—United’s most creative player—started on the bench, but he failed to create any impact after coming in as a second-half substitute.
Although Rooney’s late consolation counted for nothing, Mourinho must sort this sooner rather than later.
2. Why no Carrick?
It was obvious that Michael Carrick at 35 would get fringe opportunities this season due to a lot of midfielders in the squad and above all after the addition of Paul Pogba. Carrick is in the twilight of his career, yet keeps the ability to exert a calming influence in the game and according to former Reds midfielder Owen Hargreaves is the ideal partner for Pogba in the midfield.
What baffled many was Mourinho’s decision to exclude the ageing midfielder for the trip to Turkey. In away trips and especially to Turkey, where the atmosphere is so hostile and intimidating, a player of Carrick’s experience was desperately needed.
From here on, it will be sensible for Jose to start Carrick in as many games as he can.
3. What’s now without Pogba?
Mourinho’s frustration level increased when Paul Pogba hobbled off with an injury in the first half at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium. The most expensive player injured his thigh following a late Fenerbahce challenge, and he is now a major doubt for Sunday’s Premier League clash with Swansea City.
It will be a huge blow for United, who will also be without the suspended Ander Herrera in Swansea. The duo have done very well in the midfield this season, but injury to Pogba means Mourinho has to reshuffle his midfield.
As aforementioned, Carrick should be used often and the veteran could get the nod at South Wales. Morgan Schneiderlin, who was taken off at half-time against Fenerbahce, could pair Carrick, while chances of Marouane Fellaini getting a start after his slack performance against Chelsea are slim. Bastian Schweinsteiger just returned to the first team training this week and might not be match-fit.
The midfield problem gives the Portuguese a new headache and he has to come up with a solution at Swansea, following which the players leave for international duty.
4. How can Mkhitaryan gain Jose’s trust?
Henrikh Mkhitaryan made it into United's matchday squad for the first time since the Manchester derby in September, and came off the bench for Marcus Rashford when United trailed 2-0. Mkhitaryan had a great chance to impress his manager but was thrown to the wolves on Thursday and he obviously found it tough.
The Armenian received a lot of balls, tried to cut past the defenders and use his guile to create chances, but couldn’t find any. As expected, he looked rusty and his touch deserted him at times, especially a misplaced pass which led to a counter-attack by Emmanuel Emenike, who could have scored the third and killing goal, only for De Gea to come to rescue.
Mkhitaryan definitely has to put an extra yard but not to deny, he is a world class talent and what special he needs to impress Mourinho is beyond imagination.
5. What’s wrong with Zlatan?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s dip in form has been synonymous to United’s struggles recently. The way Zlatan started his United career, it seemed like he will torment each and every team. But that didn’t happen and his poor form continued against Fenerbahce after he came off the bench to replace the injured Pogba in the first half.
The Swedish striker is in worst goal droughts of his career, and has just a solitary goal in 10 appearances. And on Thursday, he never looked dangerous in front of the goal, instead could have been red carded for grabbing Simon Kjaer’s throat.
After failing to add impetus in the attack, Zlatan dropped deep in an attempt to influence the play, but poor touches and lack of movement haunted him.
A large part of United fanbase have already started stating Zlatan a burden to the team. It is high time for Mourinho to address Zlatan and help him rediscover his lost mojo.