There used to be one certainty about Jose Mourinho – he knew precisely which players were in his best starting XI.
But those powers have waned significantly during Manchester United’s turbulent start to the season.
As Martin Samuel points out in Tuesday’s column, Mourinho used to be a manager of action. Now he looks clueless and lost.
So what is Manchester United’s strongest team? We asked our reporters who they would pick and why…
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Rashford, Lingard, Sanchez; Lukaku
It’s a difficult one because so many players have been out of form and out of favour under Jose Mourinho.
For instance, does Alexis Sanchez deserve a place at the moment? Not really. But the Chilean would be one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s on his game.
United are still some way short of having a world-class squad, but it’s an indictment of the club under Mourinho that such talented players – new and old – are performing within themselves.
He can change the personnel and tactics, but the outcome is largely the same: very average.
(4-2-1-3) De Gea; Young, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, Fellaini; Pogba; Rashford, Lukaku, Sanchez
Pogba and Sanchez make it into the side for me. They are two of the best XI players available and it is for the manager to motivate them in such a way that they deliver.
Sanchez has not become a bad player overnight. Rashford, another one who has been alienated, is wasting away to the detriment of club and country. Of course those three should all be playing.
The defence is the area where Mourinho has more grounds for complaint. Chris Smalling has never looked a consistently world-class centre half but he is better than Victor Lindelof.
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Dalot, Rojo, Bailly, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Lingard, Sanchez, Martial; Lukaku
With everyone fit and morale more Team Europe than Team USA, this is an XI which should be too strong for most Premier League opponents.
It does not have the balance of a City, a Liverpool a Chelsea or a Spurs, but there is enough talent in there to perform much better than what we have seen so far.
Marcus Rashford is unlucky to miss out, but will be a key man off the bench. It remains a centre-half and full-back short.
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Martial, Lingard, Rashford; Lukaku
This is a tough task, and that speaks volumes for the troubles that run through United at present.
Aside from David De Gea, there isn’t a player whose performances absolutely demand selection. Jose Mourinho’s fluctuating choices further undermine any conviction of thought.
United usually seem a better side with Jesse Lingard’s energy in a central role, and Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are goal threats from out wide when at their best. Paul Pogba could be dropped but on ability alone must play.
The message should be to attack, invent, create. Do something other than limply pass the ball around with little evidence of a plan.
United have become a reactive side when they ought to be proactive.
(4-3-3) De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Bailly, Shaw; Pogba, Matic, Fred; Rashford, Lukaku, Martial
I’d rather see Marcus Rashford get the nod over Alexis Sanchez right now.
Kudos to Arsene Wenger for however he man-managed the Chilean at Arsenal because Jose Mourinho cannot get a tune out of the man whose announcement video had him playing a piano.
Midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Fred is a healthy combination of defence and attack. Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly at the back.
The solid Luke Shaw on the left and I’d like to see more of Diogo Dalot on the right over Antonio Valencia.
(4-3-3) De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Bailly, Young; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Sanchez, Lukaku, Rashford
They are all so wildly out of form that the mind can start to play tricks as to whether many of these players have the required quality. Yet they do, and ought to start showing it.
Only this calendar year, United won at Manchester City and defeated Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final with a midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, while Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford, at their best, are the most gifted forwards to partner Romelu Lukaku.
(4-3-3) De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw; Fellaini, Matic, Pogba; Lingard, Lukaku, Rashford
The back four is making the best of a bad job and is where United’s problems begin.
Between Bailly, Lindelof, Jones and Smalling, there isn’t a centre half good enough. So, if fit, I’d be tempted to go for Rojo: at least you get some aggression with him.
Midfield seems pretty clear, even if none of those players are at their best. Up front also needs more quality but United are surely close to the point of giving up on Martial and Sanchez.
Rashford and Lingard offer pace and incisive running, something to put United on the front foot. They also offer more discipline in defending.
(4-3-3) De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Young; Mata, Matic, Pogba; Rashford, Lukaku, Martial
What Manchester United need is that player who makes everyone else look better.
Carrick used to improve Ronaldo and Rooney. Hence Juan Mata has to play because he is the most fluid passer at the club. Toughest call is leaving Alexis Sanchez out.
Very good player but United need genuine pace on the flanks to give Lukaku and Pogba space to cause damage.
(4-2-3-1) De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Lingard, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku
That wasn’t easy, and I don’t think it’s a particularly good side. I can’t have Alexis Sanchez in there, he has lost everything which made him so brilliant at Arsenal and I don’t think we’ll see that player again.
As for the centre-backs, it’s a case of picking the least worst pair. It is telling also that, of the five English players in the team, only one of them – Lingard – was a starter at the World Cup.