Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes Manchester United are so far behind their neighbours this season because Jose Mourinho has not improved his best players.
Man United have encountered their worst month of the season, suffering defeats to Manchester City and Bristol City whilst stumbling to draws with Leicester and Burnley.
They now sit 15 points behind the league leaders and the horizon looks considerably bleak, with players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all suffering dips in form.
And Carragher, in his column for the Telegraph, noted that such a malaise was down to Mourinho’s inability to coach players like Pep Guardiola.
“Even now, it is the United squad that has the most expensive ‘superstars’ – or certainly those with the greater reputation when they joined the club,” he said. “Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pogba and Lukaku delivered elsewhere prior to moving to Old Trafford.”
“Have they improved under Mourinho? That is the troubling question for the United manager. It is starting to sound like he has no patience or will to make what he has better.
“City are ahead this season because Guardiola has developed players rather than expected ready-made talent to instantly deliver.
“Mourinho has increasingly come to rely on more experienced, established performers. If you want to evolve a club or a team, you don’t call Mourinho.
“He is a coach who navigates his way to silverware with teams that have the raw materials – something he has already achieved at United with two trophies in his first season. His reputation as a world-class coach is based on his ability to find a way to win.
“His legacy will be elevated if he returns to what made him so outstanding during his first spell at Chelsea when guiding players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard – who he inherited and made better – and Didier Drogba who he signed and made world-class after an indifferent first season at Stamford Bridge.”
Guardiola and Mourinho have always differed in their approach to improving players.
The former manages on a micro level, tweaking and fine-tuning various aspects of a player’s game – how they receive the ball, how they turn under pressure, how they pass the ball, who they pass to, and when they pass. Positioning and movement is drummed into them.
No stone is left unturned, and it has led to the likes of Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph, Nicolas Otamendi, Leroy Sane and many others significantly maturing as players over the last 12 months.
Mourinho, on the other hand, prefers to set a platform of solidarity and immense collective organisation, drilling into his players the fundamentals of asserting themselves into games but essentially leaving them to make their own decisions on the pitch. The 54-year-old is often depicted as a prickly character but he places immense trust in his players.
But when that collective solidarity and belief starts to dwindle, those on the pitch start to lose a sense of innovation and drive. They become preoccupied by other things around them, and this is indeed what has underpinned a demoralising December month for United.