MANCHESTER, England — It’s time for a reality check at Manchester United.
Four straight wins to start the season — one in the Community Shield and three in the English Premier League — saw new United manager Jose Mourinho cast by many as a savior of England’s biggest club, which has slumped since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
However, a loss to bitter rival Manchester City in the league last weekend, followed by a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday, is a reminder of the task facing Mourinho in restoring United’s fortunes after the gloom of the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras.
Not that Mourinho had been getting carried away.
Despite having the stated ambition of winning the Premier League title in his first season in charge, he has repeatedly said it will take time for his players to get used to his methods and to change their mindset after two years of risk-averse football under Van Gaal.
“When we won the Community Shield and the three Premier League matches, I was not on the moon,” Mourinho said. “I was not saying that we are a phenomenal team and we are going to destroy every opponent.
“I always said it was a very good start but … I know that the situation is not click your fingers and everybody is perfect.”
Motivation appeared to be an issue against Feyenoord — Mourinho said his team was at “half pace” in the first half — as United gets used to playing in Europe’s second-tier competition while most of the continent’s heavyweights feature in the Champions League earlier in the week.
Mourinho also made eight changes to the starting team that was largely outclassed by City five days earlier, resting Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, and Antonio Valencia completely, and starting Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench. And Feyenoord’s goal could have been ruled out for offside in the buildup.
Still, United had around $200 million of attacking talent in Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, and Juan Mata against Feyenoord, while teenager Marcus Rashford was rewarded for some impressive recent displays as a substitute with a first start of the season up front.
There was little inspiration going forward, though.
Pogba, signed for a world-record fee of $116 million last month, was given more attacking license than in previous matches by being played alongside Ander Herrera and Morgan Schniederlin in midfield, but was a peripheral figure, especially in the first half.
United will be back to full strength on Sunday for its away match against Watford in the Premier League.
“On Sunday, character … needs to shine through,” United defender Chris Smalling said, “because it’s unacceptable to lose three games in a row.”