Manchester United's issues mean season could be endured, not enjoyed
It doesn't look good for Manchester United, does it? There have been two defeats in the opening three Premier League games for the first time in 26 years, while it had been 49 since seven or more goals were conceded in the same period.
When United began 1992-93 badly, they could at least go out and buy Eric Cantona in November; transfer windows mean an equivalent move now is impossible. The 2014-15 campaign began with a defeat and two draws, after which the club signed Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria before the end-of-August deadline. It lifted spirits among fans at the time but, in hindsight, how well planned were those signings?
Losing 3-0 at home, as United did against Tottenham on Monday, is indefensible for any football club, but manager Jose Mourinho tried to defend his team and was right to do so. It is true that the players were more aggressive than against Brighton and played well in the first half, though there appeared to be metal in the ball and a magnet on the wrong side of the Scoreboard End goal whenever a shot was taken.
When you wear No. 9 for Manchester United, you should score the chance that was presented to Romelu Lukaku after Danny Rose's poor backpass in the first half. By contrast, Tottenham had fewer chances and took them. Game over. Once again, United's response after falling behind was limited and ineffective.
The players who performed poorly at Brighton were dropped as six changes were made -- Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Eric Bailly and Andreas Pereira did not even make the bench vs. Spurs -- but such chopping and changing cannot happen every week. Somehow, this team must find a style and identity to see it through the season.
There was a lot of noise before, during and after Monday's game because United are a huge story, even more so if they lose. Fans of other clubs can laugh and rightly cringe at United supporters asking for selfies with Spurs' two-goal hero Lucas Moura, but most of the home support was a credit to the club.
As he showed in applauding the Stretford End for several minutes after the Spurs game, Mourinho certainly appreciates that and he retains backing from the majority of those at matches, but these are worrying times for fans.
They fear that, just like last year, the league season will be all but over before it has started. It is true that 2017-18 brought a second-placed finish and wins over Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool, but the club across town won the title by 19 points.
There are worries about central defenders and a lack of unity, as well as the relationship between Mourinho and executive vice-president Ed Woodward, while well-intentioned but ultimately empty post-game social media platitudes from players about bouncing back can quickly stale.
United will be judged by results over everything else, including style of play. The rest is secondary, from Luke Shaw's impressive form and a decent game from Jesse Lingard to another poor performance from Paul Pogba and more calamitous defending in the middle.
Mourinho is under immense pressure and does not always react well in such situations. His relationship with the media is deeply strained, for which he is partly to blame after treating journalists with disdain and answering straightforward football-related questions with a look of contempt.
Though his message can appear mangled, put yourself in his shoes. Predecessors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal also suffered at the hands of the English media and the Dutchman still holds a grudge for the way he was treated. Van Gaal felt that, even if he was honest, a negative headline could be used that had little reflection upon what he had said or intended to say.
Moyes, meanwhile, had no idea until he had left that the club was briefing journalists with messages that often did not tally with his own, admittedly confused, ones. This difference in recent years from the era of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill is that internal disputes stayed private. In public, they put on a united front.
Mourinho has gone it alone and his face is showing the strain, but it was he who chose to adopt a miserable tone in preseason and highlight a lack of signings. He does not go for the charm offensive of Jurgen Klopp, he is not winning like Pep Guardiola and he does not have credit in the bank when things go wrong like Ferguson.
United have never really courted good publicity like their rivals are now doing and, in light of Monday's events, launching a new, pink shirt the following day was not ideal timing. However, there are good stories away from the first team, such as the attendance of 4,835 at the first home game for the club's newly established women's side on Sunday.
But most eyes will remain on Mourinho ahead of Sunday's visit to Burnley. Rival fans sing "Sacked in the morning" on a weekly basis and there are many who would love to see him fail and have United change manager for the fifth time since Ferguson retired in 2013. Is another change the answer, though?
Though he can frustrate, supporters should continue to support a man who could have done far worse since taking over in 2016. Mourinho has given them some good times and deserves support in these rough moments.