It recalled the more testing times and aimless performances that scarred Louis Van Gaal’s two-year spell at the club.
Mourinho singled out Luke Shaw for criticism, highlighting the left-back’s failings in the build-up to Watford’s 83rd-minute second goal that effectively killed off United’s hopes of completing their recovery after Marcus Rashford had cancelled out Watford’s first-half lead, given to them by Etienne Capoue.
The manager also repeated the concerns he raised after last weekend’s defeat in the Manchester derby when he questioned whether some individual members of his squad had the mentality to cope with the pressure that comes with playing for the club, underlining the sense that if the Portuguese is to restore success, there will be no quick fix to the problems exposed in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
Camilo Zuniga profited from Shaw’s failure to snuff out the danger, scoring with his second touch after appearing as a late substitute. The Colombian, on loan from Napoli, then won a penalty in added time that was converted by Troy Deeney to add gloss to Watford’s first win over United in 30 years.
By then, though, there had been more than enough evidence of the work confronting Mourinho, with the debate over whether Anthony Martial had been fouled in the build-up to Capoue’s goal largely irrelevant.
The manager insisted he had not learned anything he did not already know, despite this week’s setbacks coming after a Community Shield win and three victories in a row in the Premier League.
“I was completely aware that we were not perfect, with lots of players who are not end products and can make their own mistakes. My only doubt was about the way they can cope with the negative moments that come sooner or later. I feel that some individuals probably feel that pressure and responsibility too much, but, from a collective point of view, I only have good things to say about them, because if you analyse our three defeats in the last week, we were always the best team in the second half.
“I can split this [the current run] into three factors: One, the referee’s crucial mistakes are not in my control, there is nothing I can do about that; then, lucky and unlucky is part of the game, they’re there and sometimes things go against you and in our best moment their goalie makes a fantastic save; the third thing is what is in my hands, which is the improvement of the team and the individuals. Try to stop with the defensive mistakes and I knew that I had a task. I knew that because, for example, the first Man City goal and this second goal today, you can find an incredible similarity. Today, for the second goal, Amrabat receives the ball and our left-back is 25 metres from him instead of five, but, even at 25, you have to jump and go and press, but no, we wait.
“This is a tactical, but also a mental attitude. It’s something that doesn’t become perfect in a couple of weeks, so we have to improve, no doubt, individually and collectively, and that’s my job. Lady luck you don’t control and referees’ mistakes you don’t control.”
Mourinho’s dissection of the game’s crucial moment will have stung Shaw, who was immediately replaced by Memphis Depay.
The forward run of Nordin Amrabat took Watford deep into United territory when Mourinho’s side appeared to have the momentum. A short pass to Roberto Peyreyra allowed the Argentinian to pull the ball back for Zuniga, who finished well.
Earlier, Capoue had benefitted from a similar set-up, this time from Daryl Janmaat after Miguel Britos had dispossessed Martial — unfairly, according to Mourinho — finishing from 12 yards during a period when the United defence appeared shambolic.
An improved spell after the break brought an equaliser in the 62nd minute, when Rashford finished from close range after being teed up by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. An outstanding save from Heurelho Gomes prevented Ibrahimovic heading United ahead, shortly before Zuniga struck. Then in added time, Zuniga was tripped by Marouane Fellaini allowing Deeney to add the third.
Gomes 7; Cathcart 7, Prodl 9, Britos 8, Holebas 7; Janmaat 7 (Amrabat 50, 7), Peyreyra 7, Behrami 8, Capoue 7 (Zuniga 83, 7); Ighalo 7 (Success 90, 6), Deeney 7.
Pantilimon, Kenedy, Guedioura, Watson
De Gea 6; Valencia 5 (Mata 62, 6), Smalling 5, Bailly 5, Shaw 5 (Depay 86, 6); Rooney 5, Fellaini 6, Pogba 6; Martial 5 (Young 38, 6), Ibrahimovic 6, Rashford 7.
Romero, Carrick, Blind, Herrera