José Mourinho has gained a reputation for alienating many in the game. The big personality, robust ego and single-minded drive to win is ill-suited to making friends. Yet, the Portuguese manager comes face-to-face this weekend with one of his few friends in the game, former assistant and Middlesbrough coach Aitor Karanka. It’ll be a meeting of minds as well as colleagues. Yet, with Manchester United desperate to add a fifth straight league win as momentum builds, there’ll be little time for friendship at Old Trafford on Saturday.
It was the moment so many Manchester United supporters craved. Late April 2014, after 10 months in charge, David Moyes finally gone to dancing, if not on the streets of Salford, then a surfeit of social media. Moyes’ dismissal ended an anarchic period at Old Trafford; the brutal deconstruction of an experienced manager. History will long remember Moyes for his ineptitude in a job that was always too much, and the club for a shocking lack of a post-Ferguson succession planning. With the Scot’s Sunderland at Old Trafford this Christmas, memories flood back of time many want to forget…
Victory in the Premier League at last. Recent draws against Burnley, Stoke City, Arsenal, West Ham United and Everton had threatened to derail Manchester United’s domestic season, putting qualification for the Champions League at risk and ending all hope of a challenge for the title. Yet, Sunday’s narrow win over Tottenham Hotspur offers some light. Not only that United can salvage the campaign, but make up a six point gap to fourth-placed Manchester City. It is a scenario that will require the Reds to go on a lengthy winning run this winter.
What to make of Manchester United? Handsome victory over Feyenoord in the Europa League followed by yet another deeply frustrating home draw with West Ham in the Premier League. The domestic result leaves United 11 points behind the league leaders, with qualification for next season’s Champions League all but a rapidly fading dream.
Perhaps the most shocking data point from Manchester United’s last three Premier League home games is the more than 70 shots taken for just two goals scored. United 1-1 Stoke City, United 0-0 Burnley and United 1-1 Arsenal all carried a good deal of frustration. The six points lost in draws where United should have won might just be critical by May and could have taken José Mourinho’s side to just three points behind leaders Chelsea. It wasn’t so and for the most part the blames lies with the Reds’ inability to turn chances into goals. Not so on Thursday, with United vibrant in attack and efficient in scoring four against Feyenoord. The question is whether United can sustain the level of performance when the serious business of domestic football resumes this weekend?
Four points – the difference between Manchester United’s elimination from this season’s Europa League and the humiliation of having to play in Europe’s second tier competition past the New Year. José Mourinho’s side could collect three of the four points required to qualify from Group A on Thursday night with Feyenoord visiting Old Trafford. The real question, of course, is whether any of the players are really up for it?
Another game, another solid home performance in the Premier League, another draw. It’s becoming a pattern. José Mourinho’s side performed well against Arsenal at the weekend, but a failure to take chances and the Gunners‘ late goal means that the Reds have dropped six points in the past three home league games.
It’s international week so very little football of consequence is going on. In other news José Mourinho eviscerated two of his players while planning the sale of, perhaps, half-a-dozen others. Good work. Oh, and there’s a game against Arsenal at the weekend!
Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: six players, almost £100 million in transfer fees, and one big falling out. For differing reasons each of the sextet could be headed out of the club, caught in José Mourinho’s demand for total commitment. Once again the Portuguese has demonstrated a single-minded drive to do things his way, one that will cost the club millions in depreciating player values. It had better be worth it.
Was José Mourinho’s side much better or Swansea City the worst team Manchester United has faced this season? Either way the Reds gained three absolutely vital points in Wales, Zlatan Ibrahimovic two goals and Paul Pogba a worldie strike. For once, supporters went home happy!