Mourinho starts with a trophy but Man United show why Pogba is needed
LONDON -- This was a debut win for Jose Mourinho, and it came with a trophy, too, even though the Community Shield is not a huge prize. But the new Manchester United boss, while pleased with certain aspects of his side's 2-1 win vs. Leicester on Sunday, was too shrewd to see this game as anything other than a warning there is much to be done at Old Trafford.
"In this moment, we are not a super team," Mourinho told reporters afterward. "We are a team with a super desire to work. But we are not a super team."
There are positives to be taken, chiefly from the performance of Eric Bailly and the match-winning header from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But this was a disjointed display that went a long way to justifying the intention to spend big money on Juventus' Paul Pogba.
Manchester United are one of the biggest teams on the planet, and Mourinho can't place them back on the perch they vacated in 2013 with a midfield as lethargic as this. Pogba could operate as a box-to-box midfielder or even as a No. 10. Wherever he plays, he will surely bring more dynamism than his predecessors.
Usually when a three-man midfield meets a two-man midfield there is an obvious advantage for the greater numbers, but that wasn't the case at Wembley as Leicester's Andy King and Danny Drinkwater never looked overwhelmed. Neither Marouane Fellaini nor Michael Carrick are particularly swift, and Wayne Rooney, deployed in the hole, was unable to offer much assistance.
Nor could United's captain link up with Ibrahimovic at the other end, though that wasn't entirely the fault of Rooney. The Swede's first touch of note came in the second minute, a delicious back-heel that found its way unerringly to Jesse Lingard. His last touch of note was the winning goal in the 83rd minute. For the 81 intervening minutes, Ibrahimovic was largely anonymous.
Mourinho spoke this week of the difficulties in eradicating the cautious nature of his players, and the issues were evident from the start. The desire to play a simple pass inside, to hold possession and to stay safe runs deep through the core of this team. It will be some time before United's players develop the confidence to play instinctively again.
"There are some changes, but it takes time," said Mourinho. "[Antonio] Valencia today, crossing. Before he would cut inside and play the ball back."
Pogba, who United confirmed will take a medical with the club, could certainly never be accused of playing overly cautious football. He gave a mixed bag of performances at the European Championships, hamstrung by some odd tactical decisions by French manager Didier Deschamps, but also by his own occasional rash decisions.
But United's is a midfield that could do with some maverick behaviour. As embarrassing as it is to pay almost £90 million for a player who was allowed to leave for next to nothing four years ago, they certainly need Pogba back. Mourinho has no doubt that he will pass his medical, crediting his fitness to his enthusiasm for basketball and kung fu, among other pastimes.
"United is the perfect club to bring him to the level he wants to be," said Mourinho. "The Premier League is the perfect habitat for that. ... We know the reasons why he wants to come to us. Money, he will get in any big club. He comes because he knows the club, the city, many of the players. He wants to be an important part of the Manchester United project, so hopefully everything goes well and he comes to play."
Mourinho will have been encouraged by the display of Bailly at the back. The 22-year-old central defender has a few rough edges and may have a few mistakes in him, but he won the hearts of the United fans long before the half-time whistle with a performance of abundant bravery.
Jamie Vardy's attempts to rattle him failed miserably; Bailly is not going to be bullied in this division. Moments of high pressure brought the best out of the Ivorian, including a number of perfectly executed tackles in his own penalty area.
Vardy vaulted him midway through the first half when Bailly charged recklessly out of defence, and the world's most inevitable booking arrived toward the end for a clumsy push on the England striker, but United's supporters will accept those occasional shortcomings willingly. Besides, you suspect that a season or two under Mourinho's aegis will soon smooth him out.
But if Bailly is one player who could have a bright future under the new manager, you have to feel for poor Juan Mata. Sent on as a substitute just after the hour mark, he was withdrawn again right before the end and looked distinctly nonplussed.
Mourinho said afterward that the Spanish midfielder eventually accepted the decision once it was explained to him, but it was an awkward moment. Mourinho cited the long throw-ins of Leicester substitute Luis Hernandez as the reason, comparing him to former Stoke City expert Rory Delap.
"The last minutes were really difficult," he said. "I did something that is not nice to do; taking Mata off. Now he is fine, he understands what I did. I couldn't take [Marouane] Fellaini off, I couldn't take Ibra off for those Rory Delap throw-ins, but we had to win the game and, in the end, we did it."
Whether Mata really took the decision quite as well as Mourinho suggested is a question for another time, but the sad truth is that the Spaniard is expendable, for United do not exactly have a shortage of attacking midfielders.
What they do need is someone to link it all up. Someone to drive the play. Someone to boss the game around. That someone is Pogba. And the sooner he arrives, the better for United.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.