It is perhaps too early to tempt fate and claim that Manchester United has turned a significant corner, but Sunday’s ship-steadying victory over Tottenham Hotspur was certainly a step in the right direction. It was José Mourinho’s first league victory at Old Trafford since September, a statistic that could be considered a sacking offence in the knee-jerk world of modern football. Yet, as is so often the case, there has been much more to United’s season than the raw data. And the Reds could take another step forward at Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.
At what point does, seemingly, appalling luck become par for the course? Since Manchester United last picked up maximum points in a Premier League game, a very familiar pattern has played out: dominant in possession, much of the play, very few chances taken. Three matches, three 1-1 draws. It has left the Reds 13 points off the Premier League leaders.
It’s official – Manchester United has made the leap from chronically depressing to mind-bogglingly frustrating. In what feels like a cruel joke, José Mourinho’s side is now, in many ways, the antithesis of Louis van Gaal’s uninspiring outfit, but for the rather large caveat of being unable to find the net. That will have to change with the Reds at Everton 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?
As far as international breaks go the series of games this week could not have been timed any worse for Manchester United. Fresh from victory against struggling Swansea City, the Reds desperately need a run of positive results to build momentum in a stop-start season. Instead, José Mourinho’s players return from activity on three continents ahead of a must-win fixture against one of the club’s oldest enemies.
No one said it would be easy. But no one said it’d be this hard. As José Mourinho’s side fumbled its way through another disappointing night in Europe, the few remaining onlookers who thought everything would be back to normal this time around suffered a rude awakening. There is, apparently, no quick fix to the problems facing Manchester United, the self-proclaimed “biggest club in the world.”
“The stadium was full of real support and it looks like the love people have for this club is bigger than bad results. We must give something back.” José Mourinho’s words were part of what seemed liked a humble apology in the wake of last weekend’s thrashing by Chelsea. In the end, his side secured a much-needed win over rivals Manchester City in the League Cup. Old Trafford offered its unwavering support, and Mourinho humbly bowed to supporters in seeking forgiveness.
Watching Manchester United in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era is very much like Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray film of the 1990s in which the comedian is stuck in a loop, broken not even by death. There is a very definite cycle in the years since the Scot’s retirement, teetering between extreme optimism and crushing disappointment. It doesn’t seem like the trend will be broken any time soon.
Fickleness and sentiment: two words tossed around aplenty in football. “Fans are fickle” is a favourite used by onlookers as a bizarre crutch to justify supporters’ sudden change of heart. Equally, pundits note that “there is no room for sentiment” in football. It’s an overused term that explains away the poor treatment of a formerly loved player or, perhaps, manager. José Mourinho might take note of both clichés on Sunday.
No preview of a fixture against Fenerbahçe is complete without dutiful reference to a brace of pivotal games in Manchester United’s recent history. First, the Turkish side secured a famous victory at Old Trafford in October 1996, the first home loss by United in European competition, some 40 years after the Reds first took to continental football. Then, and certainly more memorable, came that début in 2004, when teenage sensation Wayne Rooney scored at hat-trick at Old Trafford in United’s 6-2 victory.