As it stands, Manchester United sit seventh in the Premier League with three wins, one draw and two defeats from the opening seven games, leaving the Red Devils five points adrift of league leaders Manchester City.
It has hardly been the perfect start to life at Old Trafford for José Mourinho, but it’s far from a disastser. And, having overcome a three-game losing streak, things appear to be moving in the right direction for United.
The current international break will give Mourinho the chance to pause and take stock of his squad’s current state. There are still issues that need to be resolved and, with difficult ties against Liverpool, Fenerbahce and Chelsea coming up over an intense period of six days, the former Real Madrid and Internazionale coach will be well served seeking solutions for the most pressing problems as soon as possible.
Here are the three issues that we believe Mourinho should be aiming to resolve over the international break.
Who partners Eric Bailly in central defence?
Eric Bailly has been superb since signing for United from Villarreal this summer. The 22-year-old Ivory coast defender was somewhat of an unknown quantity when the deal was announced, and many thought he would be eased into the team over a period of months as he adjusts to the English game.
But no such caution was needed, as Bailly took to life in Manchester like a duck to water, and is already the undisputed first-choice option in the centre of Mourinho’s defence.
A question still remains, however, over who should partner the new man. Daley Blind started the season alongside Bailly and the pair appeared to quickly develop a good understanding. But in recent weeks, Chris Smalling has returned to full fitness and seems to have usurped Blind’s position at centre-back.
Smalling is a better, more natural defender, but Blind possesses superb distribution and has shown his value in building play from the back. Mourinho must decide which of the two men will be partnering Bailly in the upcoming fixtures.
Double pivot or three-man midfield?
Mourinho started the season utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera starting as the deep midfield duo in the opening Premier League fixture against Bournemouth. When Paul Pogba was eligible to make his second debut against Southampton the following week, the Frenchman slotted in alongside Fellaini with Herrera dropping to the bench.
Following the derby defeat to City in early September, the Pogba-Fellaini midfield axis came in for heavy criticism for its lack of balance and inability to properly shield the back four.
Mournho then experimented with a midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation for a handful of games, before reverting back to 4-2-3-1 and swtching Fellaini out for Herrera.
Herrera and Pogba have shown promise as a double pivot, but with sterner tests to follow, will Mourinho elect to got back to a midfield trio? It’s system that better suits Pogba but means sacrificing an attacking midfielder.
Who should be playing on the wings?
Mourinho seems to be progressing towards striking some semblance of midfield balance — with Wayne Rooney out of the side and Juan Mata and Ander Herrera becoming key figures — but there is still uncertainty in the wide attacking midfield zones.
Anthony Martial has endured a poor start to the current campaign, but last season’s top scorer has shown glimpses of his best form in recent weeks and will be a contender to start on the left.
Marcus Rashford has forced his way into Mourinho’s XI and now seems to be one of the first names on the team sheet, with his versatility allowing him to play on either flank or through the middle as a striker.
Jesse Lingard has been given a good amount of playing time lately. The 23-year-old is tactically disciplined and works hard, but he lacks the creativity and quality of some of the players he is being picked ahead of.
And what about Henrikh Mkhitaryan? Most United fans were overjoyed when the Armenian was signed from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, but he has made only one start to date — against City in the derby defeat and, even then, he was substituted at half-time. A minor injury has apparently kept him out of the side of late, but a player of his standard will be a major asset if properly used.