Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho is urging United to take control on the pitch

Jose wants his men to show some key qualities from Ferguson era to help shrug off their current struggles

By Simon Peach

Jose Mourinho wants Manchester United's players to start showing better leadership and mental strength. So dominant for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson, United have struggled to replicate that supremacy since the Scot's retirement in 2013.

It is very early in Mourinho's tenure but 10 matches into the Premier League season, they are already seven points off the top four - a gap they will look to close tomorrow at Swansea before the international break.

United approach the match reeling from a difficult 2-1 Europa League defeat at Fenerbahce, where Moussa Sow's overhead kick after 65 seconds set the Turkish side on course for victory.

Wayne Rooney rolled back the years in the final minutes, but by then it was too late.

It was the second successive away game that United had failed to recover from an early setback, with Pedro's 30th-second strike helping Chelsea to a 4-0 win last month.

"It can happen everywhere," the United manager said when asked if the recent early goals were a concern.

"There are so many examples in football where people score goals in the first minutes. Nobody is free of that.

"But with a stronger attitude, leadership on the pitch, defenders in control of the emotion and the organisation, it's easier to be strong, it's easier to be solid."

Injuries to key defenders Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia have no doubt disrupted things, but that is no excuse for those selected approaching the Fenerbahce match in a manner their manager likened to a "summer friendly".

The Portuguese was also irked that the players ignored his pre-match advice in Istanbul, with sloppiness a fault not often associated with Mourinho's sides.

"Well, you never saw a Jose Mourinho team play with two left-backs as central defenders," he said.

"I cannot be critical of the boys because they do what they can. They try their best.

"For Daley (Blind), it is even more difficult to play as a central defender on the right side - it is completely uncomfortable for him.

"He cannot be a good builder of the game when this is one of his good qualities.

"Marcos (Rojo) is trying hard and is fine, but it's a very important starting point for the stability of the team.

"Even in matches where we didn't concede goals with them against Man City and Burnley, (they) were home matches and we managed to play with a high percentage of the ball and managed to play with the defensive line almost in the midfield.

"But it's hard to have a really strong team, but then we can talk about the number of goals that we don't score.

"Sometimes a team doesn't score goals because of their philosophy, because the team isn't aggressive enough and doesn't take enough risks. That's not our case at all.

"But it's also easy to see that some players in attacking areas lack confidence, they are not sharp, they are not getting the chances.

"And probably one of the only good things about the Fenerbahce game was the fact that Rooney finally scored. Maybe it's also a key point in terms of his self-confidence."

Confidence is not something Zlatan Ibrahimovic particularly struggles with, but the Swede has now only managed one goal in 11 matches.

"He is playing well for the team," Mourinho said. "He's creating a lot of chances, he is missing a lot of goals.

"If I remember Stoke, Liverpool, Chelsea, Burnley, he missed a lot of goals but he was fantastic in his dynamic, his working, his building up for the team, he was fantastic.

"I cannot say the same (at Fenerbahce) but in every match in the Premier League, even not scoring goals, he's being fantastic.

"His attitude is always brilliant. He's not a guy afraid of his responsibility, so I have no problem at all."

Mourinho does, though, have a problem of his own at Swansea, given he will have to watch from the stands due to a one-match touchline ban for his behaviour towards officials against Burnley.

The Portuguese told reporters to "forget it" when the subject was brought up.

Premier League fixtures (3pm unless stated): Today: Bournemouth v Sunderland, Burnley v Crystal Palace, Man City v Middlesbrough, West Ham v Stoke, Chelsea v Everton (5.30pm).

Tomorrow: Arsenal v Tottenham (12pm), Hull v Southampton (2.15), Liverpool v Watford (2.15) Swansea v Man Utd, Leicester v West Brom (4.30).

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