Manchester United’s comprehensive defeat to Watford on Sunday bought to a close a turbulent nine days for the Old Trafford club.
Having lost to fierce rivals Manchester City last weekend, the Red Devils followed that up with an abject display against Feyenoord in midweek, before collapsing to a 3-1 loss at Vicarage Road.
Here, we take a look at five things we learned about United this week.
Pogba out of position
The form of world record-signing Paul Pogba is fast becoming a major concern for fans of the Old Trafford club.
In all three of their recent defeats, the former Juventus man has been notable only by his absence from the action, seemingly unable to exert any influence on the game.
The Frenchman is naturally an attack-minded central midfielder, but manager Jose Mourinho is currently deploying him in a deeper-lying role alongside Marouane Fellaini.
This has restricted Pogba’s ability to pick up the space between the opponent’s midfield and defence, the area in which he is capable of inflicting maximum damage.
— Paul Pogba (@paulpogba) September 18, 2016
United would do well to learn a lesson from their treatment of Angel Di Maria two seasons ago, another big-money signing with a world-class reputation, who left the club after just one disappointing campaign having rarely been selected in his preferred right-wing position.
There is no doubt that Pogba has the ability to become the star of this team, but Mourinho must find a way of extracting the best from him quickly – and that starts with playing him in his favourite role.
Rooney past his best
One man drawing increasing criticism from the Old Trafford faithful is 30-year-old captain Wayne Rooney.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic now the clear first-choice up front, the Croxteth-born forward has been forced back into a ball-playing midfield role in which he seems increasingly uncomfortable.
Many saw this as a logical move, considering that Rooney has always had a natural ability to read the game, along with a solid passing range, but his display in the defeat to the Hornets has many questioning whether he should even be afforded a starting position in this team.
As reported in The Mirror, England’s record goalscorer failed to make a single tackle in the match, did not manage to create a chance from open play and struck his only shot off-target.
Scrutiny on Rooney has perhaps been intensified because he is playing in a position that would better suit Pogba, and after the captain’s display in this match few would argue if Mourinho dropped him to allow the French midfielder to flourish.
All good things must come to an end and perhaps it is time we accepted that Wayne Rooney isn’t the player that he once was.
Pace reminiscent of Van Gaal era
United’s pedestrian build-up play was a constant source of frustration for many who watched the team flounder under Louis Van Gaal last season, and they are in danger of slipping back into old habits.
In the first half against City, and the two matches since then, the Reds have been too slow to move the play forward, allowing their opponents to get men behind the ball and stifle their attacks.
Fellaini: "We must stand up together."
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 19, 2016
The inclusion of Fellaini in holding midfield has been a notable hindrance in this sense; yes, he is useful at set-pieces, but he is not a strong passer of the ball and his first touch far too often takes him back towards his own goal rather than driving the team forward.
With Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera sat on the bench, Mourinho has two men who are more comfortable in this position, each with stronger vision and range in their passing than the Belgian.
Carrick’s continued exclusion is particularly baffling, after the Portuguese boss convinced him to stay at the club over the summer when his previous contract expired.
Either of these players would give United a more dynamic look in midfield – and more importantly would distance Mourinho from the failings of his predecessor.
Jose has yet to find a partner for Bailly
Daley Blind found himself a casualty from the derby-day defeat last weekend, with the fit-again Chris Smalling picked as Eric Bailly’s partner for both the Europa League defeat to Feyenoord and Sunday’s loss to Watford.
With the Dutchman at fault for City’s opener, Smalling has been given an opportunity to stake a claim at centre-half, but the former-Fulham defender’s performance against the Hornets may leave his manager with more questions than answers.
WHAT A MISS! Awful mix-up between David De Gea and Chris Smalling, and Odion Ighalo sends a sitter wide of the post! pic.twitter.com/mWTGKmDiGX
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 18, 2016
A lack of communication with David De Gea led to an early collision that should have seen the home side take the lead, had it not been for a lack of composure from the usually ruthless Odion Ighalo, and the whole of United’s back four struggled with Watford’s long-ball tactics throughout the match.
Mourinho must now decide whether or not to drop the honest but error-prone Smalling in favour of Blind, a player who is not a natural centre-back but who has performed well in the role, whilst offering greater composure on the ball than the England international.
United have now leaked six goals in their past three matches, compared to just one goal in the three before that.
Finding a consistent, solid centre-back partnership will be vital in building confidence and establishing a team identity over the coming months.
Rashford may hold the key
If there are any positives to take from an indifferent start to United’s season, then one must surely be the continued rise of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford.
The striker has picked up where he left off in the last campaign, with two Premier League goals from just three appearances, and he looks to be pivotal in turning around the Red Devils’ recent bad run.
10 ñ Marcus Rashford (10) has scored more goals (all comps) for @ManUtd than any other player since his debut in February 2016. Saviour.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 18, 2016
Picked to start on Sunday, the England forward showed glimpses of his undoubted talent, before notching his goal with an instinctive left-footed strike from close range.
However, it is what he adds to the team as a whole which should see him become a regular fixture in Mourinho’s starting XI.
When played with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rashford provides a perfect foil for the enigmatic Swede, whose technique and vision on the ball combine well with the youngster’s pace and direct running.
Moreover, Rashford’s ability to occupy defenders leaves Ibrahimovic space in and around the penalty box, enabling him to get on the ball in areas where he can affect the game.
If deployed correctly, it could be a partnership to fire United right back into title contention.